On-premises ... On-premise

I see these terms frequently used to describe software systems hosted within a company's datacenter vs. software systems hosted externally by a third party (in the "cloud"). The term is also frequently abbreviated to "on-prem" or "OnPrem" or similar with the same meaning. The full spelling is the issue.

I take "premises" means the environ of a company or organization, whereas I take "premise" means the basis for a logical argument.

Is there any valid usage of "premise" sans "S" to mean a company, or is it simply slangy misspelling of "premises"?

Related: As the plural of "premise" in the logical argument sense is "premises", does this cloud the issue a little?


Premises is a curious word. The etymology as far as I understand is something plucked out of a legal document.¹

On the title deed of the document, the land or buildings are described at the start: they are the premise, which is to say the stated basis on which the rest of the document is based. So it might say

the property at 100 High Street, and surrounding land out, 100 yards north, and all attached and free standing buildings, including air rights, and right of free passage to the adjoining highway

(which is a mouthful). Then, the document proceeds,

these premises are rented to the Mr. John Smith, and John Smith is obliged to maintain these premises in good working order, and the lawn of the premises must be kept well

and so forth.

Premises is the plural of premise, a legal term meaning “the aforementioned thing”.² This was then plucked out of the contract to be used as a more general term to refer to the property and all the adjoining stuff. Eventually, the word took on a meaning of its own, and came to mean a building, or land or something similar.

So, I suppose the answer to your question is both yes and no. In the idiomatic usage referring to a building or land, it is always plural, but in its origin it can be singular.

  • Thanks @Fraser-Orr. This explains the information I've seen online and reinforces my thinking that On-Premises with "S" is the correct spelling. I appreciate the help! – Wade Henderson Jun 13 '11 at 14:31
  • And in non-legal writing, premise doesn’t mean aforementioned but the foundational proposition or theme of an argument or story. – Jon Purdy Jan 1 '13 at 20:07
  • So is it plural or singular??? Please update this answer to give an example: "the premises are fine" or "the premises is fine"? – Jez Feb 4 '17 at 20:35

Neither premise nor premises actually means a company. Premises refers to

a piece of land together with its buildings, esp considered as a place of business

According to Dictionary.com, both premises (plural noun) and premise (singular noun) can have this meaning. Both can also refer to logical propositions.

The answer I pointed you toward would seem to indicate that on-premise ought to be the proper adjective, although you could probably make a good argument for on-premises if you assert that "premises" in this meaning is a singular collective noun.

  • Hmmm, I read dictionary.com differently. Since definition 2 is specifically noted with the "S", that indicates to me that the tract of land part (and by implication the company, see below) requires the pluralized form. Do you agree? – Wade Henderson Jun 9 '11 at 19:50
  • I do agree with your comment about the company part. It is implied in this usage. – Wade Henderson Jun 9 '11 at 19:53
  • That's a good question and a good observation. I read it to mean that the two words are interchangeable, but I don't know that for certain. And its also why I thought you could make a plausible argument for premises as a singular noun. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 9 '11 at 19:54
  • More food for thought: the Wikipedia artice on Premises suggests that in this usage the form should always be plural. I haven't found corroboration anywhere else. Common usage is inconsistent leading to my questions. – Wade Henderson Jun 9 '11 at 20:02
  • I think maybe you should re-title your question "Is premises always plural?" or something like that. Your title looks like you are asking about the hyphenation rule. Then we might find someone who really knows the answer for sure. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 9 '11 at 20:06

A Google Books search for "on-premise inspection" finds a dozen unique matches for that particular phrase, going back to at least 1955. All appear to be from the United States, and many occur in federal government regulations. Unfortunately the dating on such published regulations (which may be revised multiple times) is extremely misleading, and in some cases the matches are shown in snippet view, so there is no way to confirm the actual date of origin of many of the matches.

Here are a few examples from the Google Books search. From The Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America, volume 7 (revised in 1955):

§989.158 Inspection of raisins on dehydrator's premises—(1) Application and agreement for dehydrator on-premise inspection, (i) Any dehydrator may submit to the committee for approval, and the committee may approve, in accordance with the provisions of this paragraph an application and agreement, on a form furnished by the committee, for dehydrator on-premise inspection of natural condition raisins produced by the dehydrator by subjecting raisins variety grapes to artificial heat.

From The Federal Reporter, Second Series, volume 398 (1969[?]):

72(2). — Acts constituting, and sufficiency in general.

Ct.Cl. 1968. "Plan for the Inspection Job" which continued off-premise inspection as originally instituted, rather than on-premise inspection as called for by supply contracts, did not constitute an agreement modifying the contract specifications to establish a single contractually specified inspection procedure.—Red Circle Corp. v. U. S., 398 F.2d 836.

From U.S. General Accounting Office, "Alcohol and Tobacco Excise Taxes: Laws and Audits Need Modernizing" (1977):

Our review has shown that the on-premise inspection system in the distilled spirits and industrial alcohol industry results in an unnecessary expenditure of resources to insure proper payment of excise taxes. The review has also shown that an inordinate amount of staff-time is expended in beer, wine, and tobacco inspections while only negligible monetary results in terms of tax deficiencies are found.

From Bill Rodgers, "Pesticide Safety - Standard Operating Procedures," in Proceedings of Seminar/Workshop on Tick Eradication Measures (September 3–6, 1985):

  1. Spraying Livestock with The Spray-Dip Machine

a. When spraying livestock with the spray-dip machine, the guidelines in VS Memorandum 556.5 should be followed.

b. An on premise inspection should be made by the supervisor, or inspector in charge of the spraying operation, to see that suitable facilities are available to do a safe and effective job.

From a translation of "Anti-Monopoly Law of the People's Republic of China" (August 30, 2007) in Anti-Monopoly Law and Practice in China (2011):

Article 39

When investigating suspected monopoly conduct, the AMEA [Anti-Monopoly Enforcement Authority] can take the following measures:

(1) Conduct on premise inspection of the place of business of the undertakings under investigation or other relevant places,

(2) Question the undertaking under investigation, interested parties, and other relevant organizations and individuals, requiring them to provide relevant information;

These examples suggest that "on-premise/on premise" has been in use in U.S. government publications for at least 60 years. In the past 30 years or so—and especially in the past decade— references to real-estate property and fixtures as "a premise" or "the premise" rather than as "premises" or "the premises" have become much more common, in and outside government texts.

As I note in answer to the related question Is "premises" referring to a single property considered a plural noun? Google Books searches turn up multiple matches for various phrases such as "enter the premise," "search the premise," and "allowed on the premise"—where premise refers to land, a house or other structure, and/or other property—suggesting that increasingly in actual U.S. practice people are flouting the traditional rule that plural premises is the correct form to use in such cases.

As prescriptivists we may regret this development, but as descriptivists we need to take seriously the evidence that the old idea that premise[s]-as-property is always plural no longer reflects reality.

protected by user2683 Jan 2 '13 at 8:34

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