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What does "pro-rate" in following sentence mean?

We pro-rate our prices if you join after a session has started

does it mean that they reduce the price if I want to enroll after a session has been started?

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Pro-rate means they calculate a price discount pro rata, i.e. in proportion to the total cost.

So yes, they will reduce the price if you enroll after the start - the discount will be proportional to the amount of session that you've missed.

Pro rata

adj.: proportional.

"as the pound has fallen costs have risen on a pro rata basis"

adv.: proportionally.

"their fees will rise pro rata with salaries"

Source: Oxford Dictionaries.

It's interesting to note that the Oxford English Dictionary categorises the term prorate as belonging to the lexicon of American English (indeed this very question has been labelled with the 'american-english' tag), however The Free Dictionary and the Cambridge Dictionary attribute it to both that and its British counterpart. My experience tallies with the latter: it's very common to hear this term in Britain in a corporate environment.

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According to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003), the verb prorate has two meanings in English—one transitive and one intransitive:

prorate vt (1860) : to divide, distribute, or assess proportionately ~ vi : to make a pro rata distribution [where pro rata means "proportionately according to an exactly calculable figure (as share or liability)"]

[Merriam-Webster Online has a similar treatment of prorate.]

In your example, the word is being used transitively, but the prices will be assessed—or more precisely, reduced—by the exactly calculable figure of how many sessions (as a percentage of the total number offered) a later arrival has missed prior to enrolling. So the two dictionary meanings are really much closer in sense than you might suppose by looking at them.

  • As a trainee accountant, donkey's years ago, I learned to use pro-rata as a transitive verb. e.g. Pro-rata the cost between the departments based on headcount. Presumably we should have been saying pro-rate the costs...*But I guess you could say *Distribute the costs pro-rata to headcount. – WS2 Feb 4 '16 at 19:37
  • @WS2: I wouldn't be surprised if the verb prorate were primarily a creature of U.S. English. I have encountered it occasionally in business/commercial settings (especially in past-tense form)—whereas I don't recall ever having met with pro-rata functioning as a verb. Unfortunately, the coinage dates that MW gives are often extremely deceptive: It may find one or two occurrences from many years ago and record that date even though significant, continuous usage may have arisen much more recently. – Sven Yargs Feb 4 '16 at 19:44
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    @SvenYargs - Is that not to say that whilst anyone can mangle a language, it takes a sure-nuff American (and the dictionary they rode on) to whup the tar out'n it? +0.967 (pro rata) for incisively perceptive affront to US lexicography. ;-) – Rob_Ster Feb 4 '16 at 20:08
  • @Rob_Ster: The ability to mangle a language may be what makes us human—more so even than having opposable thumbs. – Sven Yargs Feb 5 '16 at 3:34

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