On-Premise vs On-Premises – Who Cares?

Haven’t we got better things to do than worry about this?

From time to time, I see people argue and get upset, frustrated or just obnoxious on the use of “on-premise”. But why?

Yes, the word “premises” means – a house or building, together with its land and outbuildings, occupied by a business or considered in an official context.

…and the word “premise” means – a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion

(thanks Dictionary.com)

so, it makes sense to extrapolate this to an IT term when referring to something being on your property as “on-premises”. It’s the correct term to use.

However, ‘on-premise’ has become mainstream, and it seems to irk a lot of IT professionals. This has been happening for years already, 3 years ago Brian Madden already wrote about how the grammar war had been lost.

We are now at a stage where the biggest of vendors use the term ‘on-premise’ Here’s a few easily googlable examples:

VMware Microsoft Mailguard SAP LogMeIn RedHat RSA

Also, I just used the word ‘googlable’. That’s not a real word… yet. You knew what I meant though, right? Partly because you’ve probably heard it before, and in context it’s rather clear.

Here’s an example of these polar opposite views on Twitter:

 


Obviously I’m on the side of the second example here.

To me, there is a huge difference between seeing someone email about “Microsoft Exchange 2012”. That doesn’t exist, and it means I don’t actually know which Exchange version you’re talking about, and question your knowledge on the product if you think that exists. I don’t apply the same logic to “On-premise” because it’s crystal clear what you mean by the term. If vendors commonly use it, why shouldn’t we expect customers of these vendors to do the same?

It’s also widely accepted to use ‘on-prem’ as an abbreviation. I’ve never heard or seen a complain about that term. Isn’t it then silly, and of little to no value to go on about ‘on-prem’ and ‘on-premises’ being acceptable, but ‘on-premise’ isn’t?

On top of this, not everyone is a wordsmith. We all have different skill sets and abilities, and nobody is an equal when it comes to language. It is not a sign of intelligence or lack of intelligence if someone writes about PC’s when they mean PCs. It’s not a lack of attention to detail either – just like so many struggle to have instant recognition of which variation of ‘there’ to use.

Here’s a little secret – up until a few days ago, I thought the term was ‘pre-madonna’ but saw it written for the first time… it’s ‘prima donna’. We all have these silly stories on terms that we got wrong for so much of our lives. I also knew someone who was telling me about ‘phone ticks’. It was actually phonetics, they’d just never HEARD the word, only in it’s written form. They’re funny stories, but they all show a connection between the word and its use.

I’m not saying we should abandon grammar and correct terms. Using the correct term is what we should aim for; it reduces the chance of incorrect interpretation. However, the English language is always evolving. The term ‘Cloud’ was made up by someone recently, and it’s still a very broad, general use term that usually needs defining to work out exactly what it is in each situation.

Here’s another example; do you ever use the word ‘datum‘? It’s the singular of ‘data’. True, it’s less likely to be talking about a single piece of information, but when we do, who interchanges ‘data’ to ‘datum’? I don’t see anyone getting upset about that in the IT community…

I don’t mind if you disagree with me, and think it’s just THAT important that people add the missing ‘s’ on. If that’s what you want to do, good luck to you! I used to get annoyed with the term ‘Serverless‘ but have come to realise that despite it’s technical inaccuracy, I know what it means. So go on, keep using that word too.

Clear communication is what I believe is important; and nothing is lost in that when someone uses the term ‘on-premise’. There’s plenty of more valuable habits that are worth trying to change out there.

40 thoughts on “On-Premise vs On-Premises – Who Cares?

  1. There having quite a debate about this, but their really should be a right way. If they’re is, it should be documented and we should stick to it.

    Clear communication isn’t just about being ‘technically’ right, it is about being clear and not being misinterpreted because of the lack of physical queues in standard business communication. We live in a world of apologists regarding lazy communication because of the proliferation of chat and text, but spelling, grammar, and punctuation are still vital to expressing thought in text and will provide a great deal of information about the writer to those paying attention like prospective employers, colleagues, potential friends and potential mates. If that first sentence did not hurt on the way into your eyeballs, you are part of the problem.

    1. Thanks for your response Pete. Always like a reasoned debate!

      Slightly confused by your point though, as I agree and wrote that clear communication isn’t about being ‘technically’ right, and that grammar matters. If I was being picky, this sentence is way too long:

      “We live in a world of apologists regarding lazy communication because of the proliferation of chat and text, but spelling, grammar, and punctuation are still vital to expressing thought in text and will provide a great deal of information about the writer to those paying attention like prospective employers, colleagues, potential friends and potential mates. ”

      But I’m not being picky as this is a blog post comment and I don’t think there’s any misinterpretation of what you’re saying in that sentence :)

  2. Mr. Fowler, I agree with your point that people understand what is meant by this term. However, the syntax of IT isn’t that different from other forms of language. Using incorrect words in configuration files or programs frequently cause the underlying system to fail. Likewise, using the incorrect words in language can also cause miscommunication issues. Words do matter, and in my opinion, people who have a hard time accepting the incorrect word are simply detail oriented people, and in our industry that’s a good thing. At this point, industry has accepted a term that rubs many the wrong way, and people like myself should accept it and move on.

    “Googlable” is a different case. You’re using a term that’s being created to fill a gap when a word didn’t previously exist to fill that role. In the premise vs premises debate, people are using the grammatically incorrect word.

    Respectfully,
    Tyler

    1. Hi Tyler,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I do agree that we should try to use correct language – I’m not saying we should abandon that, or try less to do so. My main point is that when others aren’t perfect, but it’s still 100% clear as to what they mean, is it really such a huge drama? Sure, they can be told what the correct term is, but in this example the incorrect term is so widespread and used, it’s hard to really call it incorrect anymore. There’s no grey area by using either term.

      I could have used the word ‘searchable’ and you’d know what I meant, and I’d be grammatically correct. I don’t really care which search engine is used. Using a Kleenex was a made up word until a company decided to brand their tissue with the name, and do heavy advertising, and that’s a word used when another word already exists, and kleenex is on dictionary.com

      I think we’re coming to the same, or very similar conclusions here, and even if they’re a bit off – our ideals seem to be the same, but I’m just calling it and saying it’s not worth getting worked up about :)

      1. I disagree with your use of the expression “huge drama.” No one is committing vehicular homicide over the issue. No one is marching in the streets with torches and pitchforks. But it’s perfectly fine to weigh in on some forum in favor of using correct grammar. That’s not huge drama–it’s just standing up for correct usage.

    2. I agree, words matter. Humans make errors though, which is unavoidable without extra layers of protection along with what we do. The amount of errors I make typing this from my smartphone is very well masked by autocorrect.

      I agree that people shouldn’t use ‘on-premise’. But they do, and it’s not going to bother me in the slightest. Again this is just my view, I don’t expect everyone else to think the same.

      Appreciate the time you took to respond again, I think it’s a healthy debate.

  3. Adam, thanks for this post. I personally disagree with you: words do matter – I share Tyler’s opinion above. At the end of your article, you wrote something which fits into the topic: “despite it’s technical inaccuracy”. In this case you should use its, as the sentence requires the possessive form of pronoun it; and not the abbreviation of “it is” or “it has”. Surely I understood what you meant, but in the same way a browser understands malformed HTML (everybody agrees that programmers should write proper HTML, isn’t it?). It really bugs me that today it’s easier to find a .NET developer who cries when he sees two double quotes instead of string.Empty, or malformed HTML – many are pedantic with this kind of stuff – and at the same time cannot use common words. PS. I am from Italy, so I am not claiming that my English is perfect – I do better in my native language!

  4. You can’t just throw up your hands and say since everyone is doing it, it doesn’t matter anymore. Our language is not owned by the technology of the day. Premise is a well founded word whose specific meaning is still viable in language outside of technology blogs and marketing miscommunication.

    1. I completely agree. I also agree that “on-prem” is a legitimate variant of “on-premises” but “on-premise” is completely out of line. The other one that cuts across my grain is those to talk about their exercise “regime” when they really mean “regimen”. The root cause is that “premise” comes before “premises” and “regime” comes before “regimen” in the dictionary quick drops. People have gotten used to using the first word that pops up rather than using the correct one.

      1. Great observation. I also agree that the slang “on-prem” is more acceptable than the misuse of on-premise.

      2. On-prem is the safe go to. I still think it’s funny that on-prem is fine, on-premises is fine, but on-premise causes outrage.

      3. Although, ‘Prem’ itself is a word, so I don’t see why it’s acceptable while ‘on-premise’ can’t be used as shortened slang.

    2. The intent of what I wrote wasn’t to say it doesnt matter at all, it’s just so minor and causes no confusion. I get annoyed when things aren’t technically correct, but it’s because the information is wrong, rather than a temlrm being said without a letter on the end.

  5. Computers are exceptionally literal. In many programming languages, the same variable name with a single character different, even in case, makes a huge difference. Poor general grammar is a sign of lack of attention to detail. If you can’t get “you’re-your”, “to-too-two” or “there-their-they’re” correct, what else are you missing?

    1. Humans aren’t perfect, that’s why we have code debugging. All our brains work a little differently. I strive for perfection when writing but I’ll be better at it depending on the communication, audience and importance.

      I would say your second sentence had too many commas by looking at it again, and the fielrst comma wasn’t necessary but *shrug* it was readable and I got your message :) I don’t take that as you lacking attention to detail.

    1. I can read and understand what you wrote. What point are you trying to make here?

      I don’t believe I said ‘spelling doesn’t matter’.

      1. Somebody at work recently stopped a large presentation to make sure we all knew that on-premise was wrong. He is an a**hole and nobody wants to work for him.

      2. I think this is actually a great point. Being high and mighty about things like this doesn’t make other people like or admire you.

  6. “They’re funny stories, but they all show a connection between the word and it’s use.”

    SOMETHING FUNNY HERE….!

      1. I think he’s trying to say that you made a mistake using “it’s”. Again, like in my comment that was ignored, here you should use the possessive determiner “its”. The fact that many are doing this grammar mistake, doesn’t make it right. Maybe Charlie, like me, thought this fits into the topic.

  7. “People know what you mean” is an argument that results in sliding ever closer to gobbledygook. Sure, it doesn’t really matter that much, but neither do any of the rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling when taken individually. That doesn’t mean there’s no value in trying to use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. On-premise is wrong, so I don’t see any reason to accept it just because other people do.

    1. “I’m not saying we should abandon grammar and correct terms. Using the correct term is what we should aim for.” is what I said in my post too. I’m just not going to attack someone or make a huge point of it which is what I’ve seen a lot of people doing (and was actually the trigger for writing this up, it started from a Twitter heated discussion).

      Why can’t On-premise be an abbreviation of On-premises, if On-prem is acceptable?

  8. I agree with you and I don’t. For sure, there are MUCH more important things to debate. However, the most frustrating part is why can’t people just use English properly – it takes very little effort. Really. If I was in a meeting and somebody said, “I like SharePoint on premise” it is a much different the same person saying, “I like SharePoint on-premises”. Of course in reality on the former, you’d likely figure out that they not only like the idea of SharePoint but they want it installed in their own building! It’s probably pointless to debate now – just go with whatever. It probably comes down to personal taste, those that are desire high orderliness and those that have messy bedrooms.

    1. Another thing that bothers me about the misuse of the terms is that other industries are using it correctly and have been for many years – car dealers that have factory trained technicians on-premises for example.

  9. In cases like these, I apply Postel’s law: Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others. If others want to say “on-premise,” that’s their business. But I’ll opt for the clearer term. I came to this page because I had never heard the term “on-premise” until today. I had to look it up to be SURE that my impression (from context of the presentation) wasn’t off-the-mark. If the presenter had used “on-premises,” there would have been no question, and I would have been able to attend more to his presentation without being distracted by the uncertainty.

  10. The underlying assumption here is that ‘people’ ‘get it’. They do not. Not if they already know what premise and premises mean. (That is; they have a primary-school level of English?) Simply to denigrate the ‘insistence’ that the correct term be used, when known, misses the point completely. World hunger is more important than any of this but we cannot spend all our waking hours considering nothing else and damming all other considerations in life as trivial and solved.

    Of course it’s not important in the greater scheme of things but the blind assumption that ‘everyone’ gets it is entirely wrong. I work at a company that performs ‘On-premises’ integrations if you read the technical help but customers must buy something called an ‘on-premise installation’ (which is ludicrous).

    A bunch of software geeks got it wrong in the first place and now everyone talks about ‘evolving language’. ‘Getting’ something as obvious and ‘easy’ as this wrong in one’s native language tells us that that software engineers have to have this class of error fixed by someone else. A bunch of nitwit software geeks got it wrong and instead of changing it to the right word ‘decided’ they had invented a new word or meaning, something just as ‘rational’, is looney tunes. They need a smack and they need to do more reading. They should certainly not get involved in defending this, as then we simply hear about the number of people getting it wrong (and I would hold that is not ‘obvious’ that premise means premises) versus the number of untrendy old farts who ‘obsess’ about the tiniest things. This is indeed ‘just’ about communication. But that does not lead, in any way, to a conclusion that this is all ‘obvious’ and a distraction from ‘real things that matter’. (Try multiplying such behaviour across any software development cycle. Go refactor a few things and see how easy it is to ‘understand’ when thirty or forty or even three or four terms are entirely lame-brained.)

    Indeed, everyone I have met (and I have met an inordinate number of people confronted as ‘On-premise’ virgins) did not ‘get it’; they are confused (as they should be because the two words have wildly different meanings). After one has explained; then they ‘get it’ but never before. Indeed, even if they were correct (that ‘premise’ is somehow a bastardization of the correct term) it is only a ‘guess’ as the reality is Beavis and Buthead as project managers or product managers or communications directors.

    Naming things is hard. No need to be embarrassed. The name already exists right inside the language. So, if you want to sound like a nitwit use ‘on-premise’ and if you want people to know you do stuff ‘on-site’ say ‘on-site’ (which we cannot because of pesky Web sites gobbling up the words) or ON-PREMISES.

    1. I’ve never heard of anyone getting confused by the term on-premise when it’s been used instead of on-premises, but that’s just my experience.

      Yes you should work to get your company using the right term, and your write-up demonstrates how it can happen – since your company still exists, it doesn’t seem to have destroyed your company using the incorrect term.

      I am not advocating for anyone to use ‘on-premise’, more that others shouldn’t get so angry and worked up about it.

      Appreciate your detailed response!

  11. Let’s agree to disagree.
    Evolution in definitions and grammar is natural, however, the incorrect use of on-premises versus premise is plain ignorance. We have established words to convey ideas and premise/premises is the being used incorrectly. Would we accept interchanges of they’re, their, and there? Condoning bad grammar habits will reduce us to “tlkg lik dis” given enough time.

    1. This article wasn’t about accepting it, it was about realising people will get it wrong because they’re humans and not dwelling on it too much. Sure, send someone a message to correct them, but don’t lose your mind over it or yell into the abyss about how angry it makes you – you’re taking it too serious IMO if you’re at that stage :)

    1. But why does that bother you so much? One parallel I can think of is calling Config Manager ‘SCCM’. It’s not the correct name for it, but people use it all the time (including me, but I try not to) and everyone knows what it means.

      1. It bothers me because the computer industry does not own the language. Executives we are supposed to respect will say “on premise” a dozen times in a one hour presentation, but the warehouse around the corner knows to post a sign that says they have guard dogs on premises. We don’t think most of those executives are stupid, but they sure sound stupid.

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