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I've always pronounced it dɪˈvaɪsɪv (rhymes with incisive). Today at his press conference, President Obama pronounced it dɪˈvɪsɪv (rhymes with dismissive).

I've heard the latter pronunciation off and on. To me, it always sounded like a hyper-correction. I'm wondering now if there are regional variations? AmE vs. BrE? Or is it just random?

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I'm assuming the second pronunciation is a formation based on division, but I could be wroing. – Robusto Jan 16 '13 at 20:08
Both are familiar, both are widely used, and there is no difference, rather like the two pronunciations for either or tomato. Just individual idiosyncracy. You may continue pronouncing. – John Lawler Jan 16 '13 at 20:17
@JohnLawler: Tomayto/tomahto is more than individual idiosyncracy. I have never heard the former in Britain nor the latter in the US (other than from expatriates). Your pronouncement is thus not very helpful. – TimLymington Jan 16 '13 at 20:24
@TimLymington Likewise for route. I've never understood how they get rout from that word. – spiceyokooko Jan 16 '13 at 20:59
Divisive comes from divise I think, which is why the generally accept pronunciation continues as if that e is still in place. – spiceyokooko Jan 16 '13 at 21:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I believe that all verbs that end in -ide (/aɪd/) regularly produce adjectives ending in -isive (/aɪsɪv/) where the diphthong is preserved.

  • cicatrisive
  • collisive
  • decisive
  • derisive
  • divisive
  • incisive
  • indecisive
  • precisive
  • previsive
  • subdivisive
  • subrisive
  • undecisive

In contrast, verbs ending in -mit /mɪt/ regularly produce adjectives ending in -issive /mɪsɪv/, with a double s to keep the i vowel “short”.

  • admissive
  • commissive
  • dismissive
  • emissive
  • fissive
  • insubmissive
  • intermissive
  • intromissive
  • irremissive
  • manumissive
  • missive
  • omissive
  • permissive
  • photoemissive
  • promissive
  • remissive
  • retransmissive
  • submissive
  • transmissive
  • unsubmissive

Both the OED and the OALD agree with this.

I’m thinking therefore that the “other” pronunciation is less broadly accepted, perhaps a regionalism or sort of hypercorrection due to interference with divisible /dɪˈvɪzɪbəl/.

It certainly sounds odd to my own ear.

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Words ending in -ide and -isive seem to foliow a broader pattern, that includes words like corrode-corrosive, erode-erosive, explode-explosive, invade-invasive, abrade-abrasive, include-inclusive... and the adjectives in these pairs of words form part of a yet broader pattern, which also includes adjectives ending in -Vsive where the verbal counterpart does not end in -Vde (such as adhesive, abusive). And it seems that in the "regular" pronunciation of all of these adjectives, the vowel is stressed with its "long" value and the "s" is voiceless. – sumelic Nov 8 at 9:46

The dictionaries disagree, so they must be both right!

Actually, I've heard four pronunciations; /dɪˈvaɪ.sɪv/, /dɪˈvɪ.sɪv/, /dɪˈvaɪ.zɪv/ & /dɪˈvɪ.zɪv/,

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Those are the ones given by my Webster's 3rd New Int'l, but OED only lists the first (as do several others). An oddity. – Robusto Jan 16 '13 at 20:07

Regarding this long list of examples (some pertinent,while others seemingly have little relevance) it often comes down to an individual's aural sensibilities.Personally,the long vowel version sounds more appropriate while at others the short-vowel is, imho,more correct. In the case of "divisive" I compare it to what I consider the next closest word- "division"; therefore, I prefer to pronounce the second "i" as a short vowel sound. Both these words stem from the verb "divide" (which,can be also be used as a noun in certain more specific applications)-and that of course always implies the "short" pronunciation. However, I can happily accept both versions, the difference being not nearly so egregious as in many other cases.

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Interesting. Do you also pronounce incisive with a short i on the model of incision? – Sven Yargs Aug 28 at 0:47

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