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Our church is installing a security system, and we are creating notification signs for the entrances. We want to use the word "premises" on the sign.

I realize that the etymology of this word shows that it is the plural of "premise." However, in practical use, is the word singular or plural?

Which wording should I use?

  • This premises is under video surveillance.
  • These premises are under video surveillance.

To me, the singular use makes more sense.


This question is not a duplicate of Is "premises" always plural? because that question is about the use of "premises" vs. "premise." My question deals with whether or not to treat the word "premises" as singular or plural.

  • 3
    A related post – BiscuitBoy Dec 10 '15 at 16:08
  • Oald has all the necessary information as to BrE and AmE. See also thesaurus. As to the etymology of the logic term premise sg becoming premises pl for a property see Etymonline. oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/… - etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=premise – rogermue Dec 13 '15 at 10:06
  • Video surveillance cameras in use" – Jim Dec 14 '15 at 4:19
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    Definitely NOT a duplicate of the older question. It is related, but that doesn't mean the answers on the older question answer this question. Users need to read the entire question, and not just the headline, before casting their votes to close this post as being a duplicate. – Mari-Lou A Dec 14 '15 at 20:00
  • I believe the word premises should take either a singular or plural verb. This premises is under surveillance. The premises are under surveillance. – adesina olukemi tolani Jun 4 '18 at 8:58
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"These premises are under video surveillance" would be correct; it's a fairly simple matter of subject-verb agreement. However, if it sounds odd to you, just use a word other than "premises."

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I have noticed a tendency in U.S. English in recent years to speak of "a premise" or "the premise" in some situations where "premises" or "the premises" would normally (historically) have appeared.

For example, from a patent for "Premise alarm shunt arrangement" (filed September 23, 1982, published September 4, 1984) on the Patents - Google website:

Each of the zone signals [in the alarm system] is normally coupled through a premise alarm control to sound an appropriate alarm if a zone alarm signal is received, indicative of unauthorized entry into a zone. Such an alarm may be local, or remote, or both. When a premise is protected in such a fashion, to permit authorized entry to the premise, normally a shunt switch is provided so that one who is authorized to enter the premise, and is able to activate the shunt switch, can enter the premise after disabling some or all of the zones protected by the premise alarm system. Usually, the shunt switch is located outside the protected premise at a door, and the shunt is established by turning a key in a key switch. One or more protected zones of the premise are then disconnected from the alarm outputs.

From Julian Roberts, Public Opinion, Crime, and Criminal Justice (1997):

For example, the third party can consent to a search when the co-resident is away from the premise. The third-party can also provide consent when the co-resident either is present but protesting against the search, or is absent, but has clearly indicated a desire not to allow people to search the premise.

From John Talamo & Mark Warda, The Landlord's Legal Guide in California (2004):

  1. PETS. No pets shall be allowed on the premise except: _______________________ ______________________________________________________________.

And similarly from The Encyclopedia of Real Estate Forms & Agreements (2009):

Animals

No animals or birds are allowed on the premise unless the Renter has written permission of the landlord.

These are somewhat rare early examples of the phenomenon that I'm talking about; the incidence of the usage increases significantly as we get closer to the present. For purposes of the poster's question, this newfangled U.S. usage underscores that premises takes a plural verb—since premise now sometimes appears where premises used to appear, and takes a singular verb.

But if this relatively new usage becomes thoroughly established, English speakers will face a new problem: how to distinguish between a singular premise that may be entered, protected, or searched (for example) and plural but unitary premises that may be similarly acted upon. In short, you may someday have to decide between "These premises are under video surveillance" and "This premise is under video surveillance."

  • Thank you for this well researched and thoughtful analysis. We shall see if the use of the singular "premise" becomes more widespread. In the meantime, my understanding in the original context is that the premises of a church not only include the main sanctuary, but also a reception area for socializing after services, classrooms for Bible study, perhaps a rectory or an additional small chapel, a parking lot, the church's landscaping and other elements that suggest the subjects of the warning sign are indeed plural. – Mark Hubbard Dec 13 '15 at 17:08
  • @MarkHubbard The plural "premises" refers to legal descriptions, not rooms and other elements of a property. Even a single-room condo that included no land could be referred to as "premises." – Ben Miller Dec 14 '15 at 4:32
  • @BenMiller- You're right - I give up. See additional examples in my revised answer. If you look online for "video surveillance signs," you will find many examples that do not require the use of the word "premises" at all. I hope this suggestion solves your issue with posting security notices at your church. Have a blessed Christmas! – Mark Hubbard Dec 14 '15 at 19:42

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