A contract is really nothing more than the sum of its provisions, which are the who, what, where, when and how of a contract, as the “why” usually doesn’t matter, unless the answer is “to break the law.” Like a paragraph is made up of sentences, a contract is made up of provisions.
A Promise by Any Other Name
A contract is any legally enforceable promise or set of promises made between two or more parties. Contracts can be written or simply said aloud, and can range from a single oral provision -- such as “If you give me that book, I’ll pay you $10 for it” -- to huge agreements with thousands of provisions. Each provision is a contractual obligation, meaning a failure to follow one is a breach of the contract itself.
Substantive and Boilerplate Provisions
All contracts contain substantive provisions that explain who is party to the contract and the essential obligations of those parties. For example, a loan agreement will name the debtor and the creditor, as well as state that the creditor will give the debtor money immediately in exchange for getting paid back later with interest. Most contracts will also contain a number of boilerplate provisions, which are fairly standard terms included in that particular kind of contract. Even though they may be "standard," boilerplate provisions vary from contract to contract -- and can be just as important as the substantive contract provisions.
James Saxa is an attorney and writer whose work has appeared in Slate.com and "The Philadelphia Inquirer." Saxa received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania and a juris doctorate from Georgetown Law.