The language of parliamentary procedure can sometimes be difficult to understand even for those of us that have been working with it for a long time. The following definitions will hopefully provide you with a better understanding of some of the common terms used in parliamentary procedure.

Adjournment

The act of ending a meeting.

Agenda

Also known as the program, the agenda generally refers to the order of business that will be presented in a given meeting or convention. Unless a specific order of business is defined by an organization's bylaws, the order should be as follows:
  1. Reading and Approval of Minutes,
  2. Reports of Officers, Boards and Standing Committees,
  3. Reports of Special Committees,
  4. Special Orders,
  5. Unfinished Business and General Orders, and
  6. New Business.

Amend

To modify or change the meaning or purpose of a motion.

Bylaws

Also known as an organization's constitution, the bylaws define the basic rules that an organization will follow.

Chair

The presiding officer and the position where the presiding officer is located during an assembly.

Debate

Any discussion that takes place to determine the merit of a motion.

Deliberative Assembly

A type of gathering that generally requires parliamentary law to maintain order. This type of group generally has the following characteristics: members of the group are allowed to discuss the merits of items that the group should undertake as a whole, the group meets in a single area which allows each member to be heard individually, the group is large enough to require some type of formality in its meetings, and each member's opinion has equal weight in determining the direction of the group through a vote of the assembly.

Dilatory Motions

These motions seek to obstruct the will of the assembly. The presiding officer should guard against this type of motion being introduced in order to prevent legitimate business from being conducted.

Division of a Question

Allows a lengthy or complicated motion to be divided into separate motions that are debated and voted on individually.

Division of the Assembly

Any member of the assembly who doubts the outcome of a voice or show of hands vote may call for a division. This requires the vote to be retaken as a rising vote, as long as the division is not intended to thwart the business of the organization. If the outcome of the rising vote is still inconclusive, the vote should be retaken as a counted rising vote.

Ex-officio Member

A member of a board or committee whose membership on the board or committee is based on the fact that the member holds some other high-ranking position. For example, the president of an organization is often an ex-officio member of all committees (except the nominating committee), and has the same rights as other members of that committee.

Germane

In debate, a member's comments must be relevant to the item being discussed. This also applies to amendments, which must be closely related to the motion being amended.

Incidental Motions

A class of motions which relate, in different ways, to the pending business or to business otherwise at hand. Some examples of incidental motions include:
  • Point of Order
  • Appeal
  • Suspend the Rules
  • Objection to the Consideration of the Question
  • Division of the Question

Lay on the Table

When the assembly should put aside the pending question to address more immediate business, someone may move to lay the motion on the table only to attend to the more important matter. This motion is often misused as a means to delay consideration of the pending business and should therefore only be allowed when an emergency or matter of utmost importance arises.

Minutes

A record of all proceedings that take place during a meeting. The minutes should not contain all of the items discussed and all debate given about each topic, but should at least contain the items that the organization or committee decided to undertake as a result of the meeting.

Motion

A formal proposal during a meeting that the organization take certain action. There are many different types of motions that represent the different types of actions the organization can take.

Obtain the Floor

Before a member may make a motion or speak in debate about the pending business, he must first be recognized by the chair as having the exclusive right to speak at that moment. This process of being recognized by the chair is called obtaining the floor.

Plurality

Also known as plurality vote, it is the largest number of votes given to any candidate or proposition when three or more choices are possible.

Point of Order

When a member thinks the rules of the assembly are being violated, he may call for a point of order which requires a ruling by the chair and enforcement of the regular rules.

Postpone Indefinitely

Postpone indefinitely is a motion that the assembly take no position on the main question. Its adoption effectively kills the main motion.

Presiding Officer

The leader of the meeting who ensures that the organization's rules are observed. Often referred to as president or the chair.

Previous Question

This motion forces debate on the pending question to be ended and does not allow new amendments to the pending question. If forces an immediate vote on the pending question.

Privileged Motions

Privileged motions are motions that do not relate to the pending business of the assembly. Following are the five recognized privileged motions in their order of precedence:
  1. Call for the Orders of the Day
  2. Raise a Question of Privilege
  3. Recess
  4. Adjourn
  5. Fix the Time to Which to Adjourn

Pro Tem

Pro tem means for the time being and often refers to someone who is appointed to set in as the chair if the president is unable to attend the meeting.

Quorum

"The minimum number of members who must be present at the meetings of a deliberative assembly for business to be legally transacted." The quorum should be established by an organization's bylaws, but if the number is not specifically defined certain rules go into affect as explained in RONR section 40.

Special Committee

A special committee is one that is created to perform a certain task and ceases to exist once that task is completed.

Standing Committee

A standing committee is one that exists as long as the organization continues to exist, or until the committee is removed from the organization's bylaws.

Subsidiary Motions

A class of motions which assists the assembly in treating or disposing of a main motion. Examples of subsidiary motions would be to Limit or Extend Limits of Debate, Postpone Indefinitely, and Amend.

Unanimous Consent

Also known as general consent, is a quick way to process a motion if it is known that there will be little or no opposition to the motion. It does not necessarily mean that every member is in favor of the proposed action, but any opposition realizes that debating the motion is useless.

Unfinished Business

Unfinished business refers to questions that have come over from the previous meeting as a result of that meeting being adjourned without completing its order of business.