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Understanding Offer and Acceptance in UK Law: A Brief Guide for Undergraduate Law Students


In the vast landscape of contract law, the principles of offer and acceptance form the foundational pillars upon which legal agreements are built. For aspiring lawyers navigating the intricate web of rules and doctrines, a solid grasp of these concepts is indispensable. In this article, we will unravel the intricacies of offer and acceptance in the context of UK law, providing clarity and insight for undergraduate law students.

Defining Offer and Acceptance:

  • Offer: At the heart of any contract lies the offer, a manifestation of a party's willingness to be bound by specific terms. An offer can be expressed verbally, in writing, or through conduct, and it must be definite and clear. Case law, such as Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. (1893), exemplifies that an offer can be made to the world at large, with acceptance signifying agreement to the specified terms.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance, the reciprocal act to an offer, signifies the unqualified agreement to the terms proposed. Importantly, acceptance must mirror the terms of the offer and be communicated to the offeror. The "mirror image" rule, as illustrated in Hyde v. Wrench (1840), emphasises that any deviation in the acceptance constitutes a counter-offer, resetting the negotiation process.

Communication of Offer and Acceptance:

  • Postal Rule: The postal rule, established in Adams v. Lindsell (1818), alters the typical rule of acceptance requiring communication directly to the offeror. In postal transactions, acceptance is valid upon posting, not upon receipt. However, this rule may be displaced by explicit terms or conduct.
  • Instantaneous Communication: In the era of modern communication, instantaneous methods such as emails and text messages raise questions about when acceptance is effective. The general rule, as seen in Entores Ltd v. Miles Far East Corporation (1955), is that acceptance is complete upon receipt. However, the rule may vary depending on the circumstances and the parties' intentions.

Revocation and Termination:

  • Revocation of Offer: An offer can be revoked at any time before acceptance, as established in Routledge v. Grant (1828). Revocation must be communicated to the offeree, either directly or through a reliable third party. Exceptions to revocability may arise if the offer is supported by consideration or if it is irrevocable by its terms.
  • Termination of Acceptance: Acceptance can be terminated under certain circumstances, such as lapse of time, rejection, or the death of a party. Additionally, if an offeror specifies a method for acceptance, deviating from this method may render the acceptance ineffective, as seen in Yates Building Co Ltd v. Pulleyn & Sons (York) Ltd (1975).


In the intricate tapestry of contract law, the principles of offer and acceptance are vital threads that weave agreements into legally binding contracts. For undergraduate law students, a thorough understanding of these concepts is foundational to mastering contract law and navigating the complexities of legal practice. By delving into landmark cases, rules, and exceptions, students can build a solid foundation for analyzing and interpreting the nuances of offer and acceptance in UK law.

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