Last antecedent rule

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The last antecedent rule is a doctrine of interpretation of a statute, by which "Referential and qualifying phrases, where no contrary intention appears, refer solely to the last antecedent."[1] The rule is typically bound by "common sense"[2] and is flexible enough to avoid application that "would involve an absurdity, do violence to the plain intent of the language, or if the context for other reason requires a deviation from the rule.".[3]

A more formulaic approach to the rule requires, "Evidence that a qualifying phrase is supposed to apply to all antecedents instead of only to the immediately preceding one may be found in the fact that it is separated from the antecedents by a comma."[4] Kenneth A. Adams, author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, has criticized this canon of construction as being applied inconsistently and contrary to the guidance of many manuals of style:

Manuals of style recognize that the comma is used to indicate a slight break in a sentence. But according to the Rule of the Last Antecedent, adding a comma after a series of antecedents not only doesn't sever the modifier from the last noun or phrase in the series, it in fact operates remotely on all the antecedents, binding them to the modifier. Nothing in the general literature on punctuation suggests such a mechanism.[1]

The last antecedent rule is also applied to contract interpretation.

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