What is a contract?

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A formal agreement between people or groups enforceable by law.


The Restatement of Contracts (a summary of the prevailing contract laws) defines "contract" as a "promise," the breach of which the law requires a remedy, or the performance of which the law recognizes as a duty.


The formation of a contract requires two essential elements: (1) manifestation of mutual assent (which takes place in the form of offer and acceptance), and (2) consideration (which is a bargained for exchange).


One common misconception is that a contract must ALWAYS be in writing. This is not true (even though it's a good idea, and in some cases it is necessary [see statute of frauds]). A "manifestation of mutual assent" can take many forms.


Another common misconception is that if you agree to something, it's a contract. This is not true either, as all contracts may come from agreements, but not all agreements are contracts. For example, I can agree to give you ten dollars as a gift, but this would not be a contract. Contracts are legally enforceable agreements, and they require a bargained for exchange.
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