Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

005 What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?

5. What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?
Answer: The Bill of Rights

While the Constitution was being written, many people argued that it did not actually protect the rights (or freedoms) of citizens or protect citizens from having the government take away their rights. Because of this, immediately after the Constitution was ratified (or approved) in 1789, the First Congress proposed 12 amendments to the Constitution that would protect civil rights (or the rights that citizens have to social and political freedom and equality, and having the same opportunities as all other citizens). Ten of these Amendments were approved, and they became known as the Bill of Rights. “Bill” is an old word meaning a list, so the Bill of Rights is a list of a citizen’s basic rights.

The Bill of Rights includes a lot of rights and freedoms that are part of what it means to be an American. For example, it protects our freedom of speech–the right of people to say what they want. It also guarantees (or gives people the right to) freedom of religion, meaning that people can decide which religion they want to follow, or if they want to follow any at all. The Bill of Rights says that Americans have a right to trial by jury, meaning that when they go to court, a small group of citizens decides whether a person has done something against the law, instead of having just one person, the judge (or the head of the court), decide. The Bill of Rights also says that the police cannot go into an American’s home to look for something without a search warrant, which is specific permission for the police to search for something in a specific place, such as your home.

The Bill of Rights also protects people from cruel and unusual punishment. Something that is cruel is painful or unfair. “Unusual” means not common or not
normal. So the meaning here is that the punishment for a crime should not be too painful or strange, and that it should be a normal punishment for that kind of crime.

The Second Amendment is controversial and is argued about because people in the U.S. have many strong opinions about it. It protects people’s right to keep and bear arms (or carry weapons, such as guns), so that they can protect themselves. Recently in the U.S., having a gun without getting permission first has increased a lot. Many people have argued for stronger gun control laws so that it would be more difficult for people to own guns. But other people say that gun control laws violate (or do something that is not allowed by) the Second Amendment.


right – the power or ability to do something; a freedom
* The mayor said, “All children should have the right to a good education.”

civil rights – the rights that citizens have to social and political freedom and equality, and having the same opportunities as all other citizens
* Around the world, many people have died while fighting for their civil rights.

bill – an old word meaning "list"
* The Bill of Rights is a list of 10 rights that all Americans should have.

trial by jury – a lawsuit in a court where a small group of people decides whether or not a person has done something against the law
* Without a trial by jury, just one person (the judge) would decide whether or not a person had broken a law.

search warrant – an official document that lets police enter one's home to look for something, even if one doesn't want them to enter one's home
* The police got a search warrant to look for drugs in that apartment.

cruel and unusual punishment – an uncommon, painful, unfair, and mean way to punish someone for doing something wrong
* In the United States, cutting off someone's fingers would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

controversial – something that is argued about a lot because people have very strong and different opinions about it
* In the 1960s, the idea of having black and white students go to the same school was very controversial.

to bear arms – to carry weapons, especially guns
* People who don’t like gun laws say that if people weren't allowed to bear arms, only the police would have guns.

gun control – the practice of using laws to make it difficult or impossible for people to own guns
* They think that fewer people would be killed each year if there was better gun control in the city.

to violate – to do something that is not allowed; to break a rule or law
* Griela violated the company's rules when she started smoking in her office.