Posted by: Jack Henry | December 5, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Premises

Dear Editrix,

I’ve noticed the use of “on premise” instead of “on premises” in company documents and accounting codes. I’ve also seen it on a restaurant’s website advertising “on-premise” catering. I see Google claims that “on premise” has become the accepted tech industry term. Why did this incorrect use become acceptable? I know language evolves, but this is a case of total replacement. If I have to say or write “on premise,” I’ll feel stupid, but if I stick with “on premises,” I might be seen as ignorant of modern technology terms.

What’s the tipping point? At what point does a stickler tip over?

Thanks for any insight!


Dear Emily,

I don’t really know of the tipping point for sticklers, though I’ve been tipped a few times. I think a lot of these things are just shortcuts that become accepted, but in this case, it is the removal of a single letter and I don’t really see the point. I was about to go on a tirade about this particular term, but then I found an article that’s better than a rant from me. Here is Shirley Siluk’s response, from Collective Content. (Note: It is a British group, so the following article has some differences in punctuation and spelling.)

Not every writer enjoys being a scold about grammar and usage. Here at Collective Content we’re willing to give the occasional pass….

But even non-pedants have sore spots about certain bad writing habits, and here’s ours: describing information technology infrastructure as being ‘on-premise’. And we hear that a lot, given the main area where Collective Content operates is B2B IT.

According to the OED, this would suggest that your IT is on ‘a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion’. And that, obviously, is doubtful.

No, when people write ‘on-premise’, the term they’re really looking for is ‘on-premises’. As in, the IT equipment is located on the site of a ‘building… occupied by a business or considered in an official context’.

We get it. ‘On-premise’ is shorter, quicker and a bit easier to say than ‘on-premises’. But it’s a usage that’s just a bit too wrong…, even when compared to other bad writing habits. For instance, some of us might snicker when we see business copy using ‘service’ as a verb…. But the verb ‘service’ does have a legitimate alternate definition that means to ‘perform a service or services’. For now, at least, there’s no such alternative for ‘on-premise’.

Beyond being grammatically wrong, saying your IT is ‘on-premise’ is also imprecise from a technology perspective. And that’s not an impression any tech company should want to make. Customers seeking good, secure, up-to-date IT want highly specific things: 99.999 percent uptime, laser-sharp focus on security, low mean-time-to-detect and mean-time-to-respond, and so on.

Even if just a few prospects are put off by something as wrong as ‘on-premise’, you could hurt your chance of winning new business.

The problem is, the use of ‘on-premise’ has become pervasive in some corners of the tech world… to the point it’s becoming standard. Before it’s too late to reverse this trend, could we suggest a few solutions?

First, just try making a point of saying ‘on-premises’. It’s really not that difficult or time consuming – certainly not for an industry that loves using ‘utilise’ instead of ‘use’, or ‘incentivise’ instead of ‘encourage’.

If not, perhaps a shortened form – ‘on-prem’ – might be better? [KC – Yuck. No, it is not better. This is where I disagree. Just add the “s” to the end of the word. We don’t need to make the language that lazy!] It’s a variation that’s also appeared frequently in the tech world, and it avoids the whole ‘premise’ versus ‘premises’ problem entirely.

That’s a premise that works for us, no matter whose premises you’re talking about.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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