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What is the correct pronunciation of the word processes? I am confused because my mother tongue is not English, and in my company some say it as "process-eez" and some say it "process-ess".

  • 2
    "Process-ess" is certainly not right. I think you actually meant "process-əz", which has been the "standard" pronunciation. The first pronunciation seems to be a pretty recent innovation in educated circles by overextension of the irregular plural pronunciation of a set of words originally from Greek that are more common in educated speech. As mentioned elsewhere here there are also two pronunciations for the "o". – hippietrail Mar 31 '14 at 18:10

10 Answers 10

17

Even in the dictionary, this word has several recognized pronunciations:

  • In the singular, the first syllable can be pronounced with a long or short o.
  • In the plural, the last syllable can be pronounced with a long or short e.

All four of these pronunciations can be heard by clicking on the speaker icons at the Merriam-Webster website.

  • 2
    I find that the plural process-EEZ pronunciation is much more common nowadays at least in tech circles. The regular formation of the plural from a word ending in '-ess' would be '-ess ehz', e.g. abscesses -> 'ab sess ehz', but the '-EEZ' pronunciation became popular by analogy with 'biases'-> 'bai -uh- SEEZ'. – Mitch May 22 '12 at 15:24
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    @Mitch: "biases" as "bai-uh-SEEZ" must also be analogical. The regular pronunciation is "BAI-uh-sihz". The only words where "SEEZ" is normal are words that end in "-sis" or "x" in the singular, like basis~bases, thesis~theses or index~indices. – sumelic Dec 18 '16 at 8:33
25

There are words derived from Greek that end with "-is" in the singular and "-es" in the plural. Thus

This thesis is . . .
These theses are . . .

This basis is . . .
These bases are . . .

This axis is . . .
These axes are . . .

In these words, the final "-es" is pronounced "eez". "Bases", when it is the plural of "base", is pronounced differently from "bases" used as the plural of "basis". Likewise when "axes" is the plural of "axe", it's not pronounced the way it is when it's the plural of "axis".

My guess is that those who say "processeez" inadvertently borrowed that pronunciation from the class of words of which the above are examples.

9

In addition to the pronunciations mentioned in the other answers, there are different stresses put on it depending on whether you're using it as a noun or a verb.

PRO-cess - noun, as in "Your application is subject to our internal processes"

pro-CESS - verb, as in "The bride now processes down the aisle"

  • 2
    And I suppose someone called Widor has seen plenty of brides processing down the aisle. (Organists' joke, sorry) – Andrew Leach May 22 '12 at 15:51
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    @AndrewLeach I didn't even spot that one myself - must be a subconscious thing! I might have to go Bach and edit it. – Widor May 22 '12 at 16:00
  • I think the latter uses of "processes" is a lot less prevalent than "proceeds". But as to your comments, very funny, both of you! – Cyberherbalist Jul 31 '13 at 16:15
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    @Cyberherbalist Less prevalent, perhaps; but “They processed down the aisle” and “They proceeded down the aisle” mean to completely different things to me. The former means “The walked down the aisle in [orderly] procession”, whereas the latter just means “They continued down the aisle”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 18 '14 at 17:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, I do believe you are correct! Good catch! – Cyberherbalist Nov 18 '14 at 18:47
7

Please note the standard for plural endings for "ess" words as noted above. We would not refer to the Disney princesses as "princesseez" or home addresses as adresseez. I am all American and must agree with Mr. Campbell that this new pronunciation of processes is simply a snobbism created with no etymological basis. I sit in meetings with energy industry executives and consultants and I cringe every time someone describes their technical "processeez" which are clearly too innovative and intellectual to be simple processes. Oh pleez.

  • 2
    So many accepted pronunciations are innovative and have no etymological basis—welcome to the English language! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 18 '14 at 17:35
  • @Janus Please don't be arrogant. I agree with N Young that the -eez pronunciation comes off quite strongly as self-important. Innovation or not, I wouldn't recommend it. – Pertinax Jan 25 '17 at 18:01
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    @TheThunderChimp Where was the arrogance? My point was that basis in etymology is not now, and has never been, a particularly important factor in linguistic innovation, perhaps even more so in English than in many other languages. I don't disagree that processeez sounds daft. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 25 '17 at 18:04
  • The question was whether "processeez" was correct according to standard rules of English pronunciation, not whether it was innovative. – Phantom Watson Sep 7 '18 at 19:17
6

I would say the latter is correct, but you may have hit a regional variation. Generally speaking, if lots of people are doing it, it becomes dialect, and thus "correct". An "ess" sound at the end is more usual, however, at least where I'm from - I've never heard it pronounced the other way.

4

Words derived from Greek which end in -is have plural ending -es pronounced "eez", i.e. basis, stasis, proboscis, thesis. The plural of the word "process"(not being Greek) is pronounced "process's", that is with a short e sound at the end - just as in the plural of "dress, stress, tress, address" and so on. French words ending in -ee have an acute accent on the first e and it is pronounced as a flat "ay" sound.

Neil Edwards

  • Absolutely: like dresses and stresses. The eez sound is over-correction or, let's just say it, ignorance. – Lambie Apr 21 '18 at 16:49
3

I find it odd that, based on your perception, some pronounce the noun "processes" as process-ess.

In English, when a noun ends in [s], its plural form in Standard English is [sɪz] or [səz], sometimes [si:z] (esp. in AmE), but never [sVs], where V stands for any vowel.

3

The online American Heritage Dictionary entry for process says:

Usage Note: In recent decades there has been a tendency to pronounce the plural ending -es of processes as (-ēz), perhaps by analogy with words of Greek origin such as analysis and diagnosis. But process is not of Greek origin, and there is no etymological justification for this pronunciation of its plural. However, because this pronunciation is not uncommon even in educated speech, it is generally considered an acceptable variant, although it still strikes some listeners as a bungled affectation. · Although the pronunciation for process with a long (o), (prōsĕs′), is more usual in British and Canadian English, it is an acceptable variant in American English.

"Analyzing and documenting our processeez", by Conrad Weisert, 7 January 2010, says

  • Webster's Second International lists it as a third-choice pronunciation.

The second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary was published in 1934, so it would appear that the pronunciation of processes with a "long e" sound in the last syllable has been around for some time.

Note that processes seems to only be pronounced with /siz/ or /siːz/ when it is a plural noun. I haven't heard of anyone pronouncing the third-person singular verb form processes with anything other than /sɪz/ or /səz/.

Other words like this: biases, auspices, interstices

Altough processes is the most well-known word like this, there are at least three other nouns that would regularly be pronounced with /sɪz/ in the plural form, but that are apparently sometimes pronounced with /siz/ (or /siːz/):

  • biases (the plural of bias): mentioned by Mitch in a comment

  • auspices (the plural of auspice), according to Merriam-Webster (the pronunciation with /si:z/ is regular for the homograph auspices that is used as the plural form of the rare word auspex)

  • interstices (the plural of interstice), according to the AHD; you can also hear this pronunciation in many of the Youglish examples for this word. Interestingly, the OED records a 17th-century spelling variant "intersticies", although it's unclear to me if that could be related to the modern pronunciation with /i/ or /iː/.

It may be relevant that auspices and interstices are both words that are frequently plural.

Having an unstressed syllable before the /s/ seems to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for the irregular plural /siːz/ pronunciation to exist. I went through the 31 pronunciations of lattices indexed by Youglish and didn't find any that had [i].

Other possible words and further discussion

There seems to be more limited evidence for this pronunciation of plural "-es" being used in the following words:

  • abscesses (the plural of abscess)
  • fetuses (the plural of fetus)
  • injustices (the plural of injustice)
  • premises (the plural of premise/premiss; often used in plural)
  • promises (the plural of promise)

A sci.lang thread "Processeez or processuz" on Google Groups provides some further evidence about pronunciations like this:

  • What's interesting is that this neomorph is spreading. I've heard biaseez, premiseez, promiseez, and a couple more.

    (David A. Johns, 2/27/92)

  • Less than a week ago I was corrected by my wife for saying processseez and was easily convinced that it was an ideosyncracy of mine. Now I know better [...] I also use it for the word fetuses: feetusseez and I think I have heard this on CNN. [...] I don't think I use it for lotuses, but I'm getting less and less certain.

    (Dick Grune, 2/29/92)

  • it reminds me of the way Los Angeles is pronounced. Most Americans pronounce the last syllable "LESS", but I've found that many people from Britain pronounce it "LEEZ". Perhaps the reason is similar to the processeez/processuz difference.

    (Ed Suranyi, 3/3/92)

A Newsgroup Archive of an alt.usage.english thread ""processeez" --- a history of mispronunciation and a prognosis, please" also has some useful information and interesting anecdotes:

  • I heard something like that about 10 years ago, from Ralph Nader's sister (can't remember her name), talking about 'little injusticeez'. I was tempted to hear it as 'injusticies', to make it less irritating.

(John O'Flaherty, 2005-06-21)

An American Dialect Society mailing list post from 1995 mentions premises and biases.

A Meditec article "Forming Plurals of Medical Words" says "an interesting evolutionary process is the English translation process of adding a mispronounced final syllable, “eez” as in “abscesses” [abscess-eez], “interstices” [interstish-eez], “processes” [process-eez]."

  • I guess I’m ‘some listener’—both processēs and biasēs (in AHD notation) strike me as utterly bizarre. Processēs I remember hearing, and cocking an internal eyebrow at, but biasēs and fetusēs are new to me, and perhaps even more bizarre. Oddly enough, premisēs doesn’t strike me as all that odd, and Los Angelēs is downright normal to me (in BrE). An interesting neomorph indeed. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 22 '18 at 23:12
0

This is pure hunch on why an increasing number of my fellow Filipinos say /pro-se-seeez/ with a really long E and a hissing Z in the final syllable. They know that the second syllable is a short E (as in hen, beg, said), but the final syllable is something close to the short I (as in pit, his, lid). Many Filipino speakers find the short I sound difficult to pronounce, simply because we don't have this vowel sound in our phonetics. The Tagalog /i/ resembles the /ee/ sound, only that it is clipped or shorter in duration. Thus, when they pronounce the last syllable, it tends to sound more like /seez/ than /siz/. I wonder though why they don't say /ma-seez/, /kar-ka-seez/, /mo-la-seez/, and /prin-se-seez/.

-3

From my limited understanding of English - being a UK citizen born and bred, I have formed this perhaps somewhat biased opinion. The reason processes ending in - 'eez' sounds idiosyncratic in the UK is because of the association with objects. Such as divorce versus divorcee. Divorce being the subject and divorcee being the person.

Therefore, the psychological confusion with the pronunciation 'process- eez' suggests that this is some other category beyond 'the process', to include several subjects as 'candidates' for the process, 'eez', rather than the action of processing. To my mind this is a peculiar Americanism which has become contagious in the last 40 odd years.

I doubt if you will find it in 1950’s or even early 1960’s scientific documentaries, such as the American atom and hydrogen bomb tests, which pepper You Tube.

It is a relatively recent American scientific or technocratic affectation and it feels like a kind of elitist pronunciation snobbery rather than a real 'word'. What I call 'an Americanism'.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language”.

  • How disappointing to see myself marked down, but without any remotely educated or otherwise informed or enlightened contrary opinion, based on scientific or research-based knowledge. Clearly, I have offended some typical Americans, who are extremely touchy about any hint of ignorance or pretension associated with their linguistic culture. Obviously, there are not many students of etymology, phonetics or sociolinguistics on this web site? I would guess – none..? Glad I wasn't talking about the 320 million guns owned by insane Americans! Another hand-wringing 'elephant in the room'. – E P Campbell Dec 13 '13 at 9:40
  • It's sad how very good points of view raised by EP Campbell got minus reviews. How shortsighted. – user63137 Jan 23 '14 at 14:48
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    @Rafael It's also sad how E P Campbell complains about being marked down without any educated or otherwise informed or enlightened contrary opinion, based on scientific or research-based knowledge, when he himself offers none. – Kit Z. Fox Jan 23 '14 at 17:32

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