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, 2013 at 20:08
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    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. Jan 16, 2013 at 20:17
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    @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. Jan 16, 2013 at 20:24
  • @TimLymington Likewise for route. I've never understood how they get rout from that word. Jan 16, 2013 at 20:59
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    Let's call the whole thing off.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 27, 2015 at 22:39

5 Answers 5


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.
    – herisson
    Nov 8, 2015 at 9:46
  • cicatrisive in deed. Some of those ending in ive aren't exactly garden store varieties. (is that the right idiom?)
    – Lambie
    May 25, 2019 at 18:17
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    Derisive quite commonly has /ɪ/ – in fact, I don’t recall hearing /dɪˡraɪsɪv/ very often at all. May 25, 2019 at 18:39

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, 2013 at 20:07

There's actually a lot of interesting information in other places on the web about this topic, so I thought I'd post an answer summarizing some of it.

Apparently, /dɪˈvɪsɪv/ ("divissive") is more common in Canada

According to the post "The great divide" by Katherine Barber on her blog Wordlady,

At the Canadian Oxford Dictionary we found that "di VISS iv" is in fact the most common pronunciation in Canada for this word.

This preference for "di VISS iv" seems to be unique to Canada. Dictionaries from other countries give their pronunciations of the middle syllable in order of frequency:

Britain: VICE
NZ and Australia: VICE , VIZZ


The pronunciation "divissive" is uncommon in British English

Ben Yagoda's blog Not One-Off Britishisms also has a post about this pronunciation.

There has been a fair amount of grumbling about Obama and various members of the chattering classes using the “divissive” pronunciation, much of which assumes they are aping the British. That is understandable, given the way the Brits say “vittamin” and “dinnasty,” but it is not correct. The OED lists only one pronunciation for the word: with a long i. A lengthy discussion at the Washington Monthly website (which descends to personal invective at the end in a predictable, almost ritualistic manner) suggests the short-i is an American regionalism, found in New England and the Midwest. (Apparently former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle said it that way.)

There are some interesting comments that seem to support the above generalizations in this Straight Dope thread, "How do YOU believe the word "divisive" is correctly pronounced?"

05-22-2012, 08:21 AM FloatyGimpy
I'm Canadian, I've never heard it pronounced with the "eye" sound.
05-22-2012, 04:56 PM Teacake
British. Div-EYE-sieve. I've never heard it pronounced the other way.


Comparing divisive to division is confusing the issue. Those who divide are divisive, those who decide are decisive, etc. Long i" sounds. We don't say, incissive because of incisions, for example. It's incisive for incising.


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.

  • 1
    Interesting. Do you also pronounce incisive with a short i on the model of incision?
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 28, 2015 at 0:47

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