Previous: Contractual form

We analyse contracts under the heading ‘offer and acceptance’. This is the usual way in which courts judge whether a contract has been formed. Has there been an offer which has been accepted? Butler Machine Tool Co v Ex-cello-corp [1979] was an exception to this analysis. We class the person who makes the offer as the ‘offeror’ and the person to whom the offer is addressed the ‘offeree’.

An offer is the first step in the formation of a contract. Treitel said that:

An offer is an expression of willingness to contract on certain terms made with the intention that it shall become binding on the person making it as soon as it is accepted by the person to whom it is addressed. An offer may be made to an individual, to a group of persons, or to the world at large. It may be made expressly or by conduct.

Requirements of offers

An offer must contain an expression of willingness with a objectively clear intention and does not usually have any requirement of form.

An expression of willingness

If an offer does not have a clear expression of willingness, it is not an offer and so it cannot be accepted to form a contract. In Gibson v Manchester City Council [1978], having the words, ‘may be able to,’ in a letter of proposal to sell a house did not constitute a legal offer. An offer can be inferred from conduct, such as in Steven v Bromley & Son [1919], where different cargo was loaded onto a ship and a contract for a new price inferred from this loading...

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