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Negotiable Instrument – General Rules of Interpretation

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Negotiable Instrument – General Rules of Interpretation," in The Business Professor, updated January 20, 2015, last accessed April 1, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/negotiable-instrument-general-rules-of-interpretation/.
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Negotiable Instrument - Rules of Interpretation
This video explains the rules of interpretation relevant to negotiable instruments or commercial paper.

Next Article: How is a Negotiable Instrument Negotiated


What rules does the court apply when determining negotiability?

The UCC favors negotiability of commercial instruments. It contains a number of rules to resolve any uncertainty as to the terms of the instrument and to supply missing terms. The following rules apply to situations where terms in a negotiable instrument contradict each other:

•    words take precedent over numbers;

•    handwritten terms prevail over typed and printed terms; and

•   typed terms win over printed or boiler-plate terms.

These rules can allow for any number of general assumptions about the intent and obligations of the parties.

Example: If the applicable interest rate of a promissory note is left off, courts hold that a judgment rate applies.

•    Discussion: How do you feel about these generally applicable rules of interpretation for negotiable instruments? Is there any argument against the application of these rules?

•    Practice Question: Hank drafts a check to Ira that is drawn on First Bank. When Ira presents the check for payment, she realizes that the check indicates “Five-hundred dollars” and “5,000.00” in the amount column. What is the likely interpretation of First Bank’s obligation to accept and pay the check?

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