Reading some random United Nations Security Council Resolution documents (e.g. 1, 2, 3) I noticed that they contain some emphasized verbs (expressions) (italics) that seem to be from a predefined set:

  • Reaffirming
  • Condemning
  • Expressing
  • Stressing
  • Calls upon
  • Urges (..)
  • Remaining deeply concerned

I am wondering if these are used in a meaningful way. E.g. Expressing might be a mere declaration while Urges might imply concrete actions in the future. Or they are just a nice and somewhat standard way of expressing resolution's points?

Question: Do United Nations Security Council Resolutions emphasized phrases have a standard meaning?

  • 1
    +1, although I had to look up the word 'syntagms' because I honestly thought it might have been a typo and was about to edit it. I'm curious if there was a particular reason you chose that word as opposed to 'phrases'?
    – Texas Red
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 20:52
  • 1
    @TexasRed - being a non-native English speaker is the main reason and my native language contains this word (as a neologism). Of course, "phrase" is more natural, so I have replaced the word. Thanks.
    – Alexei
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 21:07
  • 1
    Glad I could help. Language is a funny thing, isn't it?
    – Texas Red
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 22:35
  • The emphasized phrases are not unique to the Security Council. They are used in resolutions by the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, as well. See Drafting Resolutions.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 15:05

2 Answers 2


As the prior answer states, UN Security Council Resolutions come in two main parts (the third part is the name of the body): preambulary and operative clauses. In each case each "paragraph" starts with an italicized word. The individual meaning of these words is exactly what it seems, within a international context (e.g. authorizes would allow something to occur from individual member states).

What's actually important about these italicized words is the division between the preambulary and operative clauses as a whole. Whereas the preamble uses gerunds such as "Reaffirming" and "Recalling" and similar terms, the operative clauses, which are binding, use terms such as "Decides" "Appeals" and "Approves".

The preamble explains the context of the operative clauses, which are the binding clauses under International Law. As such, the types of italicized terms you see in the preamble are different from those in the operative clauses.


The usage context is international law.

Editing of resolutions at the United Nations

Structure of resolutions


Resolutions are essentially one long sentence. There are normally three elements in a resolution: the name of the organ, the preamble and the operative part.

  • Preambular paragraphs are not numbered. They serve to present the background to the action part of the resolution. Preambular paragraphs must begin with a verb in the form of a present, past or perfect participle or an adjective in italics. Examples of the types of verbs and adjectives used in preambular paragraphs are provided in the annex.

See the "Annex" for lists of "Common preambular verbs and adjectives" and "Common operative verbs".

The construction of words in law begins with the plain meaning of the words. In general, see THE REHNQUIST COURT'S CANONS OF STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION. Only if there is ambiguity as to the meaning of a term should an ordinary or legal dictionary be consulted; along with legislative committee notes; etc.

The goal of construction is to determine the intent of the drafters of the document, not to insert meaning or purpose not found in the original document.

The linked document is relatively clear in language and purpose. One should not attempt to glean a legal meaning from ordinary words in the document which can be clearly defined.

If, however, the question is to the meaning of a term of art, examination of that term or combination of terms does require very careful consideration; for example, one legal term of art which can have different meaning depending on how interpreted is "notwithstanding" see What happens when two conflicting laws both say “notwithstanding any other provision of law…”?.

Some of the words used in the cited document are not necessarily strictly legal terms, for example "Urges" and "Stress" are used to convey the "urging" of an action and to "stress" the point of the body which issued the resolution. "Calls upon" and "Remaining deeply concerned" are expressions used in various public settings, not only international law.

Legal Definition of reaffirm

1 : to affirm again 2 : to agree to the payment of (a dischargeable debt) with a creditor prior to the discharge of debts in bankruptcy

Legal Definition of condemn 1 : to impose a penalty on; especially : to sentence to death 2 : to adjudge unfit for use or consumption 3 : to declare convertible to public use under the right of eminent domain : take

Legal Definition of express : directly and distinctly stated or expressed rather than implied or left to inference — compare implied

Definition of stress 1 : constraining force or influence: such as a : a force exerted when one body or body part presses on, pulls on, pushes against, or tends to compress or twist another body or body part; especially : the intensity of this mutual force commonly expressed in pounds per square inch b : the deformation caused in a body by such a force c : a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation d : a state resulting from a stress; especially : one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium job-related stress e : strain, pressure 2 : emphasis, weight 3 archaic : intense effort or exertion 4 : intensity of utterance given to a speech sound, syllable, or word producing relative loudness 5 a : relative force or prominence of sound in verse b : a syllable having relative force or prominence 6 : accent 5a

call upon

1 : require, oblige 2 : to make a demand on : depend on

Definition of urge

urged; urging transitive verb

1 : to present, advocate, or demand earnestly or pressingly 2 : to undertake the accomplishment of with energy, swiftness, or enthusiasm 3 a : solicit, entreat b : to serve as a motive or reason for 4 : to force or impel in an indicated direction or into motion or greater speed 5 : stimulate, provoke

verb : to declare, advance, or press earnestly a statement, argument, charge, or claim

Definition of concerned 1 a : anxious, worried b : interested 2 a : interestedly engaged b : culpably involved

If the question is when to use which verb or term, that is an art.


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