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Someone criticized me for using the word "premises" to denote a set of assumed "propositions", due to its connotation with houses and buildings.

Is that correct? If so, what should be the proper plural form of "premise"?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Merriam-Webster give an example using premises: <the basic premises of the argument>.

I do not think there is anything wrong with this use of premises. I don’t find homophony or having multiple meanings to be valid reasons to criticize use of a word.

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Agreed, the context should make the meaning perfectly clear, since the two meanings are far enough from each other that it is unlikely to create confusion. – pkaeding Sep 13 '10 at 19:46
I believe it was Sidney Smith who remarked that two women arguing across a fence would never agree because they were arguing from different premises. – Colin Fine Oct 6 '10 at 12:55
@Colin, that is hiliarious, nice quote. – Anonymous Type Nov 1 '10 at 22:22

Premisses is sometimes used to distinguish the logical term, but premises is more common. There was allegedly a professor who continued to lecture during an air-raid even though plaster was falling from the walls, till the chairman said "I'm afraid I must stop you there, our premises will not sustain your conclusion."

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Hilarious anecdote. I think you should add that premiss has always been an alternative singular form for premise. Based on the precedent of bus-busses I suppose you can mix and match, although I don't recall ever having seen it myself. – Merk Oct 19 '12 at 6:59

I think that the confusion stems from multiple possible uses of "premises."

The first is "premise" as a synonym for "proposition." Then it's one premise, two premises.

But "premises" (with an s) can also refer to a location such as a house or building. Then the proper use of the world is "premises."

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Sometimes 'premiss' is used in UK English for 'premise,' which perhaps gives someone the impression that 'premisses' is the plural rather than 'premises.' It would seem to be connected with whether you are starting with the standard American spelling or an alternative British spelling.

But whatever you do, don't pronounce premises as premis-eez. The 'eez'-sounding plural is only for words of Greek origin (thesis, oasis, etc.) not for words from Latin roots.

It should be pronounced 'premis-iz,' similar to 'promises.'

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This is one of the most wonderful dilema/thrases know to man. The plural of premise being premises and meaning two different things offers a dilema. Anything can offer a dilemma but when it is existential it provides a trend to adhere to.

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