There is no gainsaying the fact that words are the most potent working tools of lawyers; as such, the need for lawyers to master the art of speaking correctly cannot be over-emphasized. Carl E. McGowan, a former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, alluded to the foregoing assertion, when his lordship said:

“Words are the tools of the lawyers’ trade, and the ability to write and speak clear, effective English is something that should be expected of every lawyer…”  

It is against this background that the instant article is necessitated, based on the observation of the author.


Now, one of the commonest words in the lawyers’ vocabulary, in my humble view, is the word “severally”. Lawyers use the word/expression during communications with clients, colleagues and even the Courts. However, a careful examination of the context in which the term/expression “severally” is often used during such communications, viz a viz the true grammatical and legal meaning of the word “severally”, reveals that the term “severally” is indeed one of the most commonly misused terms during communications generally, especially among lawyers. What then does the term “severally” really mean?

The term “severally” is an adverb that means “separately” rather than as part of a group, “individually”, “singly” or “each in turn”. It is often used in formal language and vocabulary to show that one is independent of others. Examples: None of them was forced, they agreed severally; the partners didn’t have a problem with being severally liable; we signed the document after concluding that we were jointly and severally liable.  Please see: Oluyinka Soyemi (2022). Severally vs. several times: connected but different. https://englishnaija.com/severally-vs-several-times-connected-but-different/.  

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “severally” means one at a time, each by itself, “separately”, apart from others, independently. 

The Black’s Law Dictionary (Eight Edition) defines “severally” thus: “Distinctly, Separately, <severally liable>.”  A perfect example of the proper use of the term “severally” in the legal parlance is: “the Claimant claims against the Defendants jointly and severally as follows…” 

From the foregoing definitions of the term “severally”, it is clear that the term means, and indeed can be used interchangeably with, the following words: independently, separately, individually, distinctly, singly, etc. The question then is, is the above meaning of severally, the true intendment by speakers and indeed lawyers when the word “severally” is used during regular communications generally? In my humble view, it is certainly not; for the term is often used in expressions such as: “I tried severally but could not reach…; I have appeared severally before this Court; I called severally but could not…; I advised my clients severally but…” etc. 

It is humbly submitted that, whereas, the intent or intendment of the speakers in all the foregoing sentences, is to say, “several times”; the word “severally” was wrongly used or employed in the above quoted sentences. Thus the failure to distinguish between the terms “severally” and “several times”; or, put differently, the use of the terms “severally” and “several times” as synonyms or interchangeably, is where the misuse often arises. What then is the difference between “severally” and “several times”?


I hereby adopt the definitions of “severally” above and submit that, from the foregoing definitions and illustrations, it is believed that the meaning of “severally” is now very clear and need no further repetition. 

“Several times” on the other hand is “a combination of the pronoun ‘several’ and the plural noun ‘times’ to show frequency (just like ‘several places’, ‘several points’, etc) and it’s the same as ‘sometimes’, or ‘more than two times but not many’. Though ‘several times’ is indefinite, it doesn’t mean ‘many times’, it’s fewer than many. Examples: He called several times to ask after his daughter; politicians often repeat the same thing several times, etc.” Please see: Oluyinka Soyemi (2022). Severally vs. several times: connected but different. https://englishnaija.com/severally-vs-several-times-connected-but-different/

Thus, in the examples earlier given, the word “several times” should have been more appropriately employed or used, rather than the word ”severally” as shown below: 

“I tried several times but could not reach…; I have appeared several times before this Court; I called several times but could not…; I advised my clients several times but…; etc.” 


Although both ‘severally’ and ‘several times’ are derived from “several” which is both a pronoun (and determiner) and an adjective; “severally” and “several times” do not have the same meaning. While “severally” is derived from the adjective form; “several times” is derived from the pronoun form. The meaning and difference between both terms have also been clearly demonstrated in the foregoing examples. With this, it is hoped that the term “severally” is better appreciated and will be employed /used more appropriately during communications generally, especially in the legal circle.  

Authored by:


Managing Partner,


(Golden Rule Chambers)

Mercy Plaza (2nd Floor)

Yenizue-Gene, Yenagoa,

Bayelsa State.



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