On-Premise vs On-Premises – Who Cares?

Update 7th June 2018

I should have linked this earlier, but please read Michelle Warmath’s comment here where as a linguist, she claims ‘On-premise’ is actually correct. I’m not a linguist, but it sounds very well reasoned and sensible. If it’s true, then the premise (!) of my article assuming the term is wrong, is wrong in itself. Anyway, food for thought – please read on. (and welcome Wikipedia readers – I didn’t add the link in to my own blog in case you wondered, but thank you to whomever did). I still have points I made that I stand by.

Original post

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:

@cxi Personally, I’m still in the “if your employees can’t learn to use premises instead of premise, fire them and hire smarter people” camp

— Dave Henry (@davemhenry) April 13, 2017

@TheJasonNash @davemhenry @cxi If you have smart, well-paid people who can’t get past premise/premises, fire them and hire people who focus on the right things.

— Jeramiah Dooley (@jdooley_clt) April 13, 2017

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.

122 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. I assume Pete was being deliberately ironic here by using “queues” instead of “cues,” which is why nobody has picked up on this in over a year.

    3. And even longer to not notice that this had other examples of incorrect usage:

      “There (they’re) having quite a debate about this, but their (there) really should be a right way. If they’re (there) 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 (cues) in standard business communication.”

      The bit after that was something of a run-on, but the last has a different sort of problem:

      “If that first sentence did not hurt on the way into your eyeballs, you are part of the problem.”

      First TWO sentences.

      And you kids: On the premis of my being old, get off my premises!

    4. Bravo, sir. This reminds me of a quote I saw recently: “Good grammar is like personal hygiene; you can ignore it if you want, but don’t be surprised when people draw their conclusions.”

  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.


    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.

    3. Yes, thank you! NONE of OP’s examples were directly comparable to the issue at hand, since “premise” has a completely different definition. Also, I googled “prem” on the basis of Adam’s argument that it’s a standalone word, but can only find definitions stating that it’s a “shortening” for a different word. So I’d appreciate a link to a source citing it as a complete, non-shortened word.

      I cannot comprehend, after he read this particular comment thread, how OP “still think[s] it’s funny that on-prem is fine, on-premises is fine, but on-premise causes outrage.”

      Anyway, this is just another English development we’re all going to have to adapt to. This is the most infuriating one I’ve had to accept since people started calling each other’s blog usernames their “URLs” and wallpapers their “screensavers.”

      1. It does actually cause confusion when used in software for billing residential utilities. I am mortified this usage is so widespread. Further decline of western civilization.

  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.”


      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.

    1. There’s one addendum that I’d make to the application of Postel’s law here. I’ll use what I insist is the more correct “on premises” and I’ll tolerate it when other people use “on premise”; but I sure as shinola will become quite intolerant if somebody “corrects” me and says “Oh, you mean ‘on premise’…” Which, believe it or not, has happened.

  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!

      1. Well, you just heard about it from me. That they are not going out of business is related to this point in what way, exactly? Your experience is certainly ‘different’ from mine regarding this ‘word usage’. Mine is from VAST experience of this very thing. When we ‘guess’ things, then find out we happened to be correct, our memories seem to falsify our previous confusion. Oh, of course, on-PREMISE. yes, that makes sense now. I see. So, we change the world one confused customer at a time. But be not concerned. There is not a single marketing person at my company who would disagree with you. It’s eezee peezee. ‘Everyone’ gets it… except me.

  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. They won’t get it wrong if they are not told the wrong words mean something else. Don’t humans correct? Language ‘evolves’ but this is not evolution. This is just stoo…pid. (Not you or anyone else; just the thing and its ‘happy acceptance’.) This is nothing but an extremely pointed example of why software is hard. People assume it’s the difficult algorithms or the design or the coding. But not being able to fix semantic coordinates is the real killer. Here is my take: Nobody ‘up high’ ever gives a rat’s ass about this (they’re not ‘out of business’). Therefore it is only and forever the people at the ‘coal face’ who see such issues. As I said; try renaming things using words that ‘seem’ the same as the correct words and see how far you get when you need to ‘understand’ a lot of things all at once.

    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.

  12. This article makes computer people sound completely stupid, and the author is justifying stupidity. Tech folk don’t own the language, and just because a few grammar challenged people misuse something and it gets repeated is no reason to accept that usage. Big tech companies employ such people too, so they aren’t immune, nor is it a valid excuse to point to big companies – they don’t own the language
    As to “pre-madonna” I disagree with you; if you want to blog, be an author, or otherwise communicate publicly, you had better be a wordsmith.

    1. Well said Ohbee. Such an easy problem to fix. Naming things is usually difficult but ‘on-premises’ already exists right in the language. We can’t have it both ways. Either these things matter or they don’t. Nobody will go out of business leaving out the ‘s’ but it speaks volumes to the arrogance of management who, after being informed of the correct term, decide, rather than fix it, to ridicule the ‘grammarians’ (equipped with a basic understanding of English) as ‘anal’ or uptight, you know, harping on ‘the details’. Stephen Prettis’ example was perfect. However, I cannot even get people at my own company to properly reconcile these terms. So, all the people who instantly ‘know’ that a ‘premise’ is a singular building/business/firewall as well as “an idea or theory on which a statement or action is based” must be perhaps themselves more evolved than the fuddy duddies who demand clarity.

    2. People are stupid at many things, and not stupid at some things in my opinion. Also, restricting sharing information to only those who are wordsmiths is elitist, and you’d be pushing away many people who have English as a second language who are incredibly smart and have many things to share, but aren’t as good as you with the language.

      You missed a full stop in your post too. Should blog replies be under the same scrutiny?

      1. Missed a full stop did I? Ha… It’s a ‘new’ punctuation I’m trying. Invented by software engineers and now available to the world.

        I’m afraid i write too fast, and when I’m not paid I don’t check it… especially rants.

  13. No problems – this is an opinion piece, not a demand on how people must act and think :)

    Interestingly nobody has argued against data/datum being used incorrectly across the industry.

    1. I’ve had the data/datum argument. It is an entirely different class of problem (that is; it is not a problem). And even though ‘datum’ is ‘correct’, it serves no purpose that I can see (except to get super smart arse). It is a word that is ‘becoming’ forgotten. ‘Data’ is fine for singular and plural. But I wouldn’t smack someone for ‘being correct’. Found this: “data isn’t what they used to be.”

  14. We have found a good compromise at VMware by allowing/encouraging our IT people and execs to say “on-prem” as short for on-premises. Everybody seems happy with it, and it’s not hard to remember. JC

    1. Indeed. This cements the problem ‘under the carpet’. Internally, any suggestion of confusion is quickly dispelled using on-prem. We do the same.

      Company: We have an on-prem solution.
      Customer: On prem?
      Company: On premise.
      Customer: What premise?
      Company: Premiseeeees.
      Customer: Premiseeees?

      These customers are thick, no? Everybody must know that on prem means on premise, which means on premises.

      Right way (using actual English) (although English does require that extra pesky syllable):

      Company: We have an on-premises solution.
      Customer: That’s what we need.

      It is the fact that software companies see ‘on prem’ as a ‘solution’ to the problem of people being able to parse their own language that is most amusing. The evidence that this can never be ‘fixed’. What the hell have people got against adding ‘es’ at the end to allow the words to communicate the actual meaning? Much simpler to shorten the word, in order that we can take the meaning another degree further away. ;-)

      1. You just proved why using the wrong terminology is worse than just saying it correctly…”premises” is a well known word that’s not technical jargon. Change that and you’re “dense” customers are rightfully confused because they are not technical and you just made up a nonsense word. This isn’t hard, just say it correctly and there’s no problems.

  15. You’re just wrong. Words mean things, it’s why we have dictionaries. Under your logic let’s just use emojis for everything, let’s go back to hieroglyphics.

    1. Funny, the word Emoji was made up by smashing two Japanese words together. That’s fine though, because some recently made up words are ok even if they’re from another language, but how dare we make up this word that drops one letter from what you expect. However, dropping half the word is still acceptable?

      Also, got a dictionary that has “On-Premises” in it? Everything I found just had them as two separate words.

      Finally, I’m unsure how an opinion can be wrong.

      1. English dictionaries have definitions for premise and premises. I’m not sure why you would care about a dictionary entry for either with a hyphenated prefix.

      2. “Everything I found just had them as two separate words.” I’m not sure why you’d repeat back to me what I just wrote? :)

        This is still missing the point of what I originally wrote – I’ve never said ‘On-Premise’ is a correct, accurate term and should be used by everyone all the time.

      3. Sorry. No, I have never seen a dictionary with the hyphenated prefix defines for either word. There are dictionaries on the Internet that list the idiom “on premises”. Merriam-Webster is one example.

  16. Thank you for an enjoyable and thoughtful read, Adam. I found everyone’s comments to be thought-provoking as well.

    I came across your article when doing some research for my work. I am a professional technical/legal/general language translator and former ESL teacher and am therefore also somewhat uncomfortable with the missing “s” in “on-premise” even though I have become inured to technical jargonization. I would like to offer another angle which might provide insight on that missing “s”.

    From a purely linguistic point of view, even though using “on-premise” to mean “on the premises” may cause some confusion and discomfort with regard to the meaning and spelling of “premise”, since it is hyphenated and used in a forward-positioned, albeit unconventional, adjective form (“on-premise version”) when referring to software/equipment installation and use, it is in fact *grammatically* correct.

    In English, adjectives are “invariable” which means they have no plural forms and therefore would not take an “s”, contrary to other languages like French in which the adjective has to “agree” with the noun, e.g., “un grand chien noir – des grands chiens noirs” (a big, black dog – some big, black dogs).

    “Premises”, referring to a place, has no adjective form; moreover, it is invariably used in the plural in this context. So I suspect that the “adaptation” of “on-premise” (no “s”) to be used as a forward-positioned adjective intended to mean “on the premises” inadvertently followed natural English grammar use and… dropped the “s”. If you think about it, you would not say “in-flights meals”, and this probably explains how “on-premise” came about.

    [As an aside and in complement to the comments about dictionary entries, it should be recalled that compound adjectives formed with a preposition and a noun are supposed to be hyphenated when they come before the word they are describing and do not take a hyphen if they come after that word: “after-sale service” / “service after sale,” “on-campus activities” / “activities on campus”, “after-dinner drinks” / “drinks after dinner” etc. So it is again grammatically logical and correct that making a compound adjective out of “on the premises” would require a hyphen if “on-premise(s)” is used before the word it describes: “on-premise(s) activities / activities on premises”. The sole example given by Webster places it after the noun which is why there is no hyphen. Of course, Webster has not yet accepted the hyphenated use before the noun – like all dictionaries, it seems. But who knows, maybe next year we will see “on-premises” or maybe even “on-premise” in the dictionaries. Stranger things have happened.]

    Notwithstanding all of the above, “on the premises” is just another way of saying “on the site [of the work or other activity]” and there is another longstanding and commonly-accepted adjective for that: “on-site”. I do not know why that has fallen out of favor and been replaced by “on-premise[s]”. It probably has something to do with language trends.

    I agree with many comments that the best compromise would be the short form “on-prem” – once it is commonly accepted that this means “on the [customer’s, etc.] premises” – with the “s”.

    And I agree entirely that this particular “issue” is not as important as quality, efficiency and good customer service, insofar as it does not interfere with the message sent regarding these factors.
    Certainly the use of “on-premise” sans “s” is no reason for undue criticism. The important thing is for the company to decide on and consistently use a specific spelling. Customers will indeed probably “get it” from the context (e.g., “solutions available in SaaS or On-Premise [or “On-Premises] versions”) and won’t be offended even if they were to bring up the missing “s” over coffee. I find there are more critical issues with current English use. For example, using “except” rather than “accept” is a far more serious matter if you write “I except your offer”, and we all know about those apostrophe struggles “it’s” vs. “its”, “they’re” vs. “their” vs. “there”, and then of course there is the use of “less” instead of “fewer” for countable nouns. I am not saying the world should come to an end if a person does not use these grammar basics correctly, but compared to “on-premise” they are still the correct, standard grammar use and are examples of the type of mistakes that could genuinely harm a company’s image on a website (= company showcase) or in a letter, as they may suggest the company might be as lackadaisical in its performance as it is in its proofreading. I make mistakes with its and it’s and other typos when I am tired and using instant messaging and not typing carefully (nobody’s perfect so neither am I); but it is better not to make them (and as you can see, I generally use the expanded form to avoid them).

    New technology is influencing all languages every day, and it should; as a linguist I appreciate your (all of you here) conviction that respecting correct language use and meaning are important as well.

    have a happy and safe holiday weekend,

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful, factual and detailed comment Michelle!

      “From a purely linguistic point of view, even though using “on-premise” to mean “on the premises” may cause some confusion and discomfort with regard to the meaning and spelling of “premise”, since it is hyphenated and used in a forward-positioned, albeit unconventional, adjective form (“on-premise version”) when referring to software/equipment installation and use, it is in fact *grammatically* correct.”

      Wanted to quote this paragraph in particular from you, since I’m not a linguist and just assumed ‘on-premise’ was grammatically incorrect – so I was factually wrong! Hope this gives others something to think about, but again if you believe otherwise, please share why you believe so.

      1. I’m not smart enough to disagree with Michelle, but I would like to ask her if “on-premise”, in the context she presents, poses any problems with translations?

    2. It seems like this is entirely based on the premise (no pun intended) that “premises” spelled with an “s” is necessarily the plural form of the word, which I don’t think is correct. You make the example of “in-flights meals” but just because a word has an “s” at the end doesn’t necessarily make it plural — for instance, would it be correct to take your later example of “on-campus activities” and shorten it to “on-campu activities”? I think the “on-premise” shortening is less grating because “premise” just so happens to be a word, but it shares about as much meaning with the intention of the phrase as “campu” does with “campus.”

      1. I agree with Theo on this.
        Michelle’s article states rightly that “In English, adjectives are “invariable” which means they have no plural forms and therefore would not take an “s””,
        So the conclusion is that “premises” is the plural form of “premise”. That would be wrong.
        According to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/premise, there is no singular form of premises in the sense of “a building or part of a building”.

      2. 3.) premises also premisses plural [ from its being identified in the premises of the deed ]
        a : a tract of land with the buildings thereon
        b : a building or part of a building usually with its appurtenances (such as grounds)

      3. Hi all, this has been interesting reading from many angles. Sorry Theo and Mike and gang who believe that “premises” is singular, but if you go to any dictionary that includes the plural or singular classifier then you’ll become aware that “premises” is indeed plural – it’s not just an accidental “S” on the end. As Sap has pointed out.

        If you ever care to dig into the etymological backdrop of the word, it is derived from “premise”, and get’s it’s particular meaning or sense via usage in law – and is always in the plural (hence no singular entry Theo & Mike et al.).
        That notwithstanding, Michelle might actually be onto something.. “on-premise” could well be correct after all, but only limited to this sage on the premise that “on-premise” is following an invariable adjectival construction. Definitely “on (the) premise” is incorrect (referring to on-site).

        I agree with some that “on-prem” should be used to skirt the issue, and personally so IT’s don’t inadvertently make themselves or their employers look stupid. And when someone better educated asks you what that means, just say it means on-site.

        In summary (in context of meaning on-site):
        on (the) premises = plural = GOOD
        on (the) premise = singular = BAD, but understood-ish
        on-premises = plural = GOOD unless…See Michelle Warmath comments about “invariable adjectives” above, then…
        IF on-premises bad, then on-premise = singular = GOOD?
        on-prem = Better solution to whole problem????

        Which all begs the question – besides who thought of this silly question – is a preposition something you really can’t end a sentence with?

      4. Adam, and we won’t even get into your improper usage of “begs the question” when asking a question… Har!

    3. If it’s natural for “on premises”, when used as an adjective, to lose its plural form, then we should be able to test this with analogous forms. I’m not sure “in-flight” is a perfect analogon: it seems derived from “in flight” (i.e. while flying) rather than “in flights” (which isn’t in use; we say “on flights” instead). We need cases where a standing expression “P the Ns”, with P a preposition and N a noun, such as “on the shoals”, “at the seams”, “in the nuts”, “out of the woods”, is turned into an adjective. Would we speak of an on-shoals accident or an on-shoal accident? An at-seams burst or at-seam burst? An in-nuts kick or in-nut kick? An out-of-woods operation or an out-of-wood operation? I wish I could think of examples (other than “on-premise(s)” where this has already happened, but I can’t.

    4. Michelle, I’d argue that “on-premise” is *not* grammatically correct, because semantics trump syntax here; following the syntactic pattern for adjectives in English changes the semantics, which renders the phrase invalid for IT use.

      We cannot remove the “s” without changing the meaning of the noun “premises”. A single physical location is referred to as a “premises” despite the plural form; a “premise” is a foundational assumption, which is totally different. So, “on-premises” is a valid synonym for “on-site”, but “on-premise” is semantic nonsense in this particular IT context!

      Yes, it’s true that grammar is traditionally confined to syntax; however, in “The Semantics of Grammar”, Anna Wierzbicka argues that syntax actually follows from semantics in a fundamental way:


      That’s why I feel justified in saying that semantics trump syntax here. There’s also a more practical concern.

      “On-premises” has a major virtue besides being correct: it’s self-explanatory. “On-premise” has a major drawback: it makes no sense to people who aren’t already familiar with it. I’m an IT professional, and I had to look it up!

      Clear communication matters, and that’s the reason why the IT industry should use “on-premises”, not “on-premise”.

      1. Quite so. Actually it’s the semantics that also make me personally uncomfortable with “on-premise”; but I was merely speaking of the strictly mechanical grammar formation. :)

    5. One would never say “on-bu” though for “on the bus”, correct? For example, a travel company might advertise their buses as having “on-bus” TVs.

  17. My biggest issue with the differences is that not everyone is a native English speaker. Those who do not speak English natively tend to take things literally due to the translations involved. I work for a global company and often have to explain to my overseas co-workers why their other co-workers are talking about ‘the idea of’ something as opposed ‘to the location’ when used in regards to the on-premise and on-premises debate.

  18. It is really sad to me, a non-native English speaker, to see how little appreciation you show for your own language. Orthography is not questionable, if you disobey it you shall not be understood. The famous Brazilian writer Oswald de Andrade once said regarding an upcoming orthography reform: I don’t care how you write the words, provided that everybody writes the same way. Do not shame yourselves in front of the rest of the world: write on the premises, or on-premises. A on-premise (or on-premiss if you are British) software is a software that holds an assumption. It exists, but is something else.

      1. I did read the long-winded, thin justification for the continued use of on-premise, and found it totally unpersuasive. Agree with those here who hold fast to the idea that imprecise use of language has no place in a discipline that is all about information. The time wasted on my public utility project cleaning up work instructions that were informed by this poor usage (infected by the UI of our custom Oracle software product) is enough proof for me that this does matter. It’s potentially dumbing down an entire workforce who perform on-site tasks based on these work instructions that fluidly refer to both the software, and residential and commercial properties. We can do better, and we should. Also, this is why developers need colleagues who specialize in UX, to drive these points home vs shrug them off. It clearly takes more than one type of intelligence to build elegant products.

  19. While interesting, Ms. Warmath’s post said: “(“on-premise version”) when referring to software/equipment installation and use, it is in fact *grammatically* correct.”

    Indeed, that is why it causes such confusion. It is not semantically correct. As Marcello says “… holds an assumption. It exists, but is something else.”

    Ms. Warmath also said: ” I do not know why (on-site)… has fallen out of favor and been replaced by “on-premise[s]”. It probably has something to do with language trends.”

    It has more to do with ‘Web sites”. If we are deploying software we must, today, differentiate between ‘site’ (the physical place) and site (the Web site). There are many ways one could do this. Using ‘On-premise’ is not so much a ‘solution’ as ignorance of the language.

    We are all ignorant of many things and that, in itself is not such a big problem. The problem is when the correct (or at least somewhat descriptive) ‘On-premises’ is rejected in favour of the brain-damaged ‘On-premise’; after it has been explained and pointed out.

    This is not the invention of a new term. It is not language ‘evolving’. As long as the actual meaning exists, this is simply willful obfuscation.

    Finally: “The important thing is for the company to decide on and consistently use a specific spelling.”

    Indeed, no. This is why the problem persists. It matters not a whit if everyone in a company agrees that on-premise means on-premises. It is only when ‘everyone’ agrees, that everyone can understand… without further explanations, that language can even work.

    Enjoyed the posts.

  20. Michelle’s post completely misses the point. ‘premise’ is an entirely different word, with an entirely different meaning. The premise of a novel is the basis of the plot; the premises of the novel is the building it is set in!

    1. Sorry to burst your bubbles Kevin and Fred, but “Premises” is derived from the word “premise”. Check out the etymology of premises. I mention it briefly in response to Theo, above.

      1. oh nards. I wasn’t thinking and didn’t put any extension on my name on my prior two posts. The “Adam”, as in just “Adam”, you see above is me, Adam H, and not Adam Fowler.
        Sorry, I did not intend to possibly confuse or misrepresent anyone. Noticed my lapse of judgement when I saw Fred Chapman’s post remarking to Adam, but he’s talking to Adam Fowler, not me.

        Maybe I should have posted as “Adams” instead?

      2. Thanks, but my bubble is entirely still intact, Adam. I’m well aware of the etymology of ‘premises’ being the collection of more than one premise that makes up the legal document that describes a property. Isn’t the point, though, that when using in the context of a legal document that describes a property, the word has taken on additional meaning? That additional meaning was a function of how language develops, to the point where that meaning is now accepted de facto – linguists call this semantic shift. Now it may well be that eventually enough people will shorten ‘premises’ to ‘premise’ to the point where it takes on this new meaning, but what’s the point when there’s already a perfectly good word that already describes it (ie the plural version)? Language exists to communicate ideas and concepts, and this only work when words have a common, shared meaning, and that’s why it’s important to resist errors until they overwhelm us – otherwise we are hostages to fortune under the rule of Humpty Dumpty (in ‘Through the Looking Glass’).

  21. Adam, in your June 7, 2018 update, you cited Michelle Warmath’s comment and claimed that she said “on-premise” is correct. What she actually said is that it’s “grammatically correct”. That’s just a linguist’s way of saying “the syntax is acceptable”. Passing the syntax test meets a relatively low standard. The higher standard is the semantics test: does the phrase have the correct meaning for our intended purpose? The answer here is very clear: no, it doesn’t.

    As you rightly pointed out in your original article, “on-premise” means something completely different than “on-premises”. It doesn’t matter if the syntax of “on-premise” is correct if the semantics are totally inappropriate. A correctly formed phrase that means something entirely different than we intend is still wrong!

    Since linguistics is concerned with both syntax and semantics, there’s no justification for considering “on-premise” to be correct in an overall sense. Now I’d like to respond to a couple of quotes from your article:

    1. “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?”

    2. “Clear communication is what I believe is important; and nothing is lost in that when someone uses the term ‘on-premise’.”

    I disagree, Adam. “On-premise” is *not* crystal clear to those who have never seen the term before (e.g., customers). I’m an IT professional with decades of experience in a wide variety of IT roles, and I had to look it up!

    “On-premises” is not just correct—it’s also completely self-explanatory. In contrast, “on-premise” makes no intrinsic sense; it’s based on a word that’s entirely wrong for the intended meaning in an IT context, and that makes it unclear.

    I agree that clear communication is what’s important. That’s the reason why the IT industry should use “on-premises”: the term needs no explanation and stands on its own. “On-premise” simply doesn’t meet that standard of clarity.

  22. Hmm, when I used my Google login, my first comment was published immediately. When I switched to different credentials, my next comment wasn’t published. Are some credentials viewed more favorably than others?

    1. WordPress decided the comment was spam – I’ve marked it as not spam for you :) I don’t get to see any reason why sorry.

      1. Adam, it looks like marking “spam” comments as “not spam” puts them into a moderation queue. Comments that were never identified as spam seem to be published immediately, without moderation. Is that how this blog works?

      2. It seems so,approved now :) It’s been so good at catching spam vs non spam, I hadn’t had to do that before! For context there’s been 37,889 spam comments so far blocked :)

  23. te yousage if mad up wrds wll alllways fnd thr way into the lnguge but der as 2 bee a ——- drawed in desand sum were….
    Make up the rest yourselves

  24. Interesting. I actually use on-premises but keep my opinion on correct usage to myself. I’d love to change the world one grammatical error at a time, but there are bigger battles to fight. However it does bother me that incorrect grammar is becoming more and more acceptable as long as the meaning gets across, but like I said, there are bigger battles to fight.

  25. If you consider the etymology of “premises” as it came to refer to land property, “on-premise” is perfectly logical.

  26. The use of premise instead of premises to denote a physical location is nothing less than linguistic terrorism. Additional examples of destruction of the English language is the use of ‘then’ and ‘than’ interchangeably. Keep this up and American English will have to rely entirely on semiotics instead of semantics. Why communicate with language at all if there is no consensus on the meaning of words?

  27. Not forgetting those who will type on-premises’, on-premise’s, on-premices and my personal favourite on-premiseses!

    1. Well I hit “enter” by mistake. I was going to say it has also been a really nice conversation because of all the really interesting angles and the civil tone, which is very pleasant, thank you all. I actually was perusing some older articles in my WordPress reader and saw it was still sparking interest. Nice!

      To reply – two years later, shame on me :( – to Stephen Pretty’s question on whether “on-premise”, in the context she presents, poses any problems with translations”: It might, depending on which of the above points of view the client takes. So like any good translator should do, when I come across “unusual” use such as this or anything that seems unclear or new to me, my first step is always: ask the clients what their preferred term is. I might give them an explanation about language use but if they want to say “on-premises” or “on-prem” because that’s what their company uses, then that is what I use.

      As for the purely grammatical and semantic viewpoints as well as context and understanding, I agree: it’s better to use words that everyone can understand and agree on right away. But with technical language evolving like it does to try and meet specific needs (cf. z6’s explanation of the need to differentiate between the physical place (site) and the website. I hadn’t thought of that and now I will), I suppose there will always be these “foggy” moments before new terms or uses become mainstream, as when “premise” meant “the matter” in a contract or deed, in law referring to the property in the transaction and from there more commonly the… premises. How the “premise” (referring to the matter of property) became plural is another question.

      But that evolution over the centuries is what makes language interesting. After all, in The Taming of the Shrew, Biondello refers to Lucentio’s wife as his “appendix”.

      Happy New Year to all!

    1. Thanks for coming back Michelle and yes thankfully my family and I are safe. Hope you have a wonderful 2020 and thank you for your detailed insights!

  28. I came upon this excellent discussion while searching for this term after hearing a Microsoft executive use “on premise” during an interview and not being sure what he meant. I was surprised to see many results that were explaining the difference between on premise and cloud services instead of the difference between on premise and on premises. As an aside, I have been hearing a similar misuse of the word versus in which people will say “this verse that.” At any rate, my instinct is to say that this originated through sloppiness, laziness or ignorance as opposed to a deep understanding of the etymology of the word premises. All the definitions of premises on dictionary.com (maybe not authoritative, but widely used) indicate a singular usage. Premises: (a) a tract of land including its buildings. (b) a building together with its grounds or other appurtenances. (c) the property forming the subject of a conveyance or bequest. My feeling is that (at least up until now) premise (an idea or presupposition) and premises (a building) were each generally considered to be singular nouns of different meanings that shared a similar spelling – much like adding an e to cut gives you cute or an s to needles gives you needless. I think the best solution (and I suspect the real origin of this – laziness) would be to shorten the term further to on-prem.

    1. The best solution is just to use the correct word. It’s not difficult. Are people allowing their pride to get in the way?

  29. Please. “On-premise” is as incorrect as writing “else iff”. The only reason you don’t get away with the latter is because a compiler or interpreter is checking you and forcing you to fix your error. I’m actually a bit surprised anyone in IT is promoting verbal sloppiness. We’re supposed to be precise and rational.

  30. “On prem” or “on premise” may be understandable as slang-y ways of saying “on premises,” but it is certainly open to misinterpretation. Literally, “on premise” is a descriptive term for something that relates directly to an idea or set of ideas. It should not be used as a substitute for “on premises.” The argument that it is okay to use any faddish verbal construction that’s understandable–the “you know what I meant” fallacy– is an empty line of thought that, taken to its logical conclusion, will reduce language to grunting and pointing.

  31. Languages change and grow. For example, the only reason “premises” means a property/location is because property owners misunderstood legal jargon (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premises).
    I’d rather we grow the language to include “on-prem” rather than adding a new definition to “premise” like we accidentally did with “premises”.

  32. A Quick search on the blogs.microsoft.com link reveals that the article yuou refer to is not present anymore.
    Searching for “on-premise” yields 10 results on the first page (of 845 in total) of which 6 are spelt on-premises and 2 on-premise.
    So I would not take that as the proof of “even the big ones spell it without s”

  33. LOL — it matters because you sound stupid when you say “on-premise”! You also loose credibility when speaking with anybody who actually knows what the word “premise” means, and knows that it is not the same word as “premises”. Essentially, every time you use the word incorrectly, you display not only your ignorance, but the fact that you are too lazy to educate yourself.

    This is not a grammar thing, it is a definition thing. You might as well call a server a servant and say “it doesn’t matter”.

    Now tell me, do you want to have an ignorant, lazy engineer working on your IT systems? Or do you want an engineer who displays intelligence and attention to detail?

    1. imho good sysadmins tend towards being lazy. They will find ways to automate and simplify to avoid future work. If they are ignorant then they can (often) be educated once informed (but they need to be informed first). Lazy and ignorant NOT(intelligent and detail focused). On the other hand I don’t want sloppy and prickly sysadmins working on my IT systems.

      1. and I was ignorant of the fact that ‘greater than’ and ‘lesser than’ symbols (used to represent “not equals”) would not show up in my comment. To correct (since it seems I can’t edit); “Lazy and ignorant” does not equal “NOT(intelligent and detail focused)”.

      2. Not sure if the quote is true, but:

        “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”

        ― Bill Gates

    2. That was funny. The first sentence has >>> you sound stupid when you say “on-premise”! ‘ <<< Followed by the second sentence which has "You also loose credibility…". Hilarious, almost as classic as the "Get a brain! Morans" sign one sees periodically.

      You might want to look up the difference between "lose" and "loose" before writing "Essentially, every time you use the word incorrectly, you display not only your ignorance, but the fact that you are too lazy to educate yourself."

      BTW, I agree "on-premise" makes one sounds silly. It is the vendors and their marketing that are the lazy ones and too arrogant to check beforehand or change afterward when their mistake is shown to them.

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