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Signatures vs. initials – what are the differences?

Signing and initialing a contract are actions that every businessman and businesswoman who comes into contact with contracts has performed. That is, everyone :) Both of these terms have permanently settled in speech and writing and.... are repeatedly used interchangeably. So what is the difference between a signature and an initial? That's what you'll read about in this article!
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Table of contents:

The article in a nutshell:

  • A handwritten signature is required to preserve the written form of a legal act;
  • A qualified signature is equivalent to a handwritten signature and can replace it;
  • The signature should contain at least the name, but it does not have to be legible, however, it must give the possibility to identify the author;
  • A paraphrase is a graphic mark and it usually takes the form of the author’s initials;
  • The paraphrase does not have a legal effect when applied under a statement of intent.

What is a signature?

Signature, which we have already written about many times in the pages of our blog, is an action required to approve contracts. In the case of a written form of legal action, it is necessary to submit it in the form of a handwritten signature, as mentioned in Article 78 par. 1 of the Civil Code. In contrast, other regulations speak of the equivalence of a qualified signature to a handwritten one. This means that entrepreneurs do not have to use the current traditional form at all. They can act in a more modern way, using a variety of technological solutions, one of which is the qualified signature.

However, let’s return to the handwritten signature. In fact, the regulations do not specify its form. However, we can refer to the ruling of the polish Supreme Court of December 30, 1993. – III CZP 146/93, as well as the decision of the Supreme Court – IV CSK 78/09 issued on June 17, 2009.

According to the ruling, the signature should be made up of letters, and, most importantly, it must make it possible to identify its author. In addition, it is important to determine whether it was made in the same form as was commonly used by that person. 

An earlier Supreme Court resolution also says that the signature should include at least the name of its author. Importantly, it does not have to be legible, but it must meet the previously mentioned aspects regarding identification.

So let’s summarize the most important points about the signature:

  • it is made by hand (but equivalent to this form is a qualified signature, used in digital documents),
  • should contain at least a name,
  • does not have to be legible,
  • should provide a chance to identify the author,
  • is necessary for the expression of a statement of intent.

What is an initial?

Now, that we know what a signature is, it is time to answer the question – what is an initial? After all, we very often see and put it on documents, but it has not been specified in the legislation.

The initial is a graphic sign, but poorer than a signature. First of all, it is an abbreviated form, which is most often limited to initials, but it does not have any legal effect. Placing an initial under a statement of intent will not make it valid.

The initial is nevertheless widely used. As an example, it is contracts, especially multi-page contracts. They are signed on the last page, but many entrepreneurs and contractors use an initial on the remaining pages. It is meant to confirm the shape of the document and its acceptance. We might even be tempted to say that this is about the integrity of the contract. Confirmation that it has been signed in a given form and that no changes have been made to it after this action.

Initial is also a way of accepting documents before they are signed. This situation is particularly evident in companies that seek the advice and opinions of lawyers. They in turn initial the documents, deeming them approved.

How can I verify who signed my document?

Initials and the law

In the eyes of the law, the paraphrase has not been defined, so its use on a document does not carry any legal consequences. No one is required to initial every page of a contract. The exception is a visit to a notary, during which the presence of an initial on each page of a notarial deed is required.

Unfortunately, in the case of litigious situations in court, the initials are not a mark whose authenticity can be easily confirmed – they are easy to forge due to their uncomplicated appearance. In conclusion, from the point of view of document security, initialing does not provide any guarantee.

The integrity of the digital document

We cannot overlook one of the purposes for which the paraphrase and references to digital reality are used. Namely, it is used to preserve the integrity of the document. In the case of signing contracts online via Pergamin, such confirmation is the e-seal, which is given to every document, whether it is concluded using a qualified signature or a signature within the documentary form of the legal action. The e-seal guarantees that no changes have been made to the contract after it has been affixed. This gives entrepreneurs confidence in the document’s integrity. There is no need to put an electronic paraphrase on every page of an online document, and although many people regard such a service as necessary, in the case of online documents it is the e-seal that provides the guarantee that no one signing has changed anything in the content of an already concluded agreement.


A signature and an initial are significantly different. In the case of a signature, at least a name is required. A paraphrase, on the other hand, is a simple graphic mark, usually taking the form of initials. While a signature is required under a statement of intent, a paraphrase only serves to accept or confirm the integrity of a multi-page contract and has no legal force.

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