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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".

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    "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". Mar 31 '14 at 18:10
  • Indeed, "process" (and its variants) might be the only (common) word ending in "ess" whose plural “es" may be pronounced as "EEZ". Consider "princess", "success", "abscess", ... (see thefreedictionary.com/words-that-end-in-cess)
    – Yibo Yang
    Feb 21 '19 at 3:36
  • Are you asking about the noun or the verb?
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 2 at 19:01

11 Answers 11

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.

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    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.
    – herisson
    Dec 18 '16 at 8:33
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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.

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  • See the perhaps not fully reliable, but promising Wiktionary entry of "processes": The nonstandard pronunciation /ˈpɹɒsɛˌsiːz/ (with the final syllable pronounced like seize) is due to influence from plurals like parentheses and hypotheses, and perhaps even bases. Compare biases, where a similar influence is found." Jan 2 at 20:24
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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.

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    So many accepted pronunciations are innovative and have no etymological basis—welcome to the English language! 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. 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. Sep 7 '18 at 19:17
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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"

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    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! 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”. Nov 18 '14 at 17:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, I do believe you are correct! Good catch! Nov 18 '14 at 18:47
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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.

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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

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    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
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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]."

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  • 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. Mar 22 '18 at 23:12
  • @JanusBahsJacquet One pair that can sometimes trick my ear in a related way (perhaps depending on the speaker?) is singular diocese /ˈdʌɪ.əsɪs/, /ˈdaɪ.əˌsiːz/ versus plural dioceses /ˈdʌɪ.əsəsəz/, /ˈdaɪ.əˌsiːzəz/.
    – tchrist
    Jan 2 at 20:19
  • @tchrist Yeah, that one tricks my ear as well, in the sense that I always intuitively want diocese /ˈdaɪəˌsiːz/ to be plural, even though I know it’s singular. Jan 2 at 20:25
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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.

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Wrapping up in advance (due to the long text)

"process-eez" might come from the rare plural long u "-us" ending of the Latin u-declension of "processus" (which is just an intransitive participle converted to a noun). Generally, "eez" cases might just flag something special. Finally, it might also just improve the sound of e/i-ss-es endings.


I have once learnt from a British university teacher of Business English that process-eez is right, long ago. When I used it a while ago, a native English speaker from the US was not fond of it and used process-es afterwards. That is why I have put some time into this.

Intransitive "processus"

Latin "processus" can be both transitive and intransitive, it can mean almost anything of a sort of passive movement from here to there and the other way round. As a side-note, to me, it seems a bit like the flexibility of the English "please". Latin "processus" can be a masculine adjective as well, which was probably confusing even for the Latin native speaker. But what is its meaning in English when we talk about "processes"? It is obviously intransitive, and the participle is taken as a new sort if "intransitive" noun. In German, you would call it "Vorgaenge", which stands purely for itself, the verb "vorgehen" does not hint at any possible object in that noun. You can "go further that way", but not if that has already been done or is being done and you try to make it a noun like "the going further of the way". Not sure if that example helps, but it seems quite obvious to me that the noun "processes" uses an intransitive verb, and coming from a participle, it is passive. (Of the same origin, there is also "processio", which led to English 'procession" / "process".)


u-declension

Latin "processus" is the same in both nominative and accusative singular and plural, and the very seldom u-declension stresses the passive character of a participle (and perhaps even its intransitive core, not sure about that) even in plural with the "u" coming from the participle ending "-us".

The words "process / processes" show that someone has not understood the Latin u-declension. When "process" is "processus", "processes" is "processuses", thus "processes" itself should be questioned. But as the question is about how to pronounce "processes", this is just a side-note.


Singular vs. plural

From Latin, French took over both "processus" and the shortened French word "procès" (sg. = pl.) which is the word that English took over in the end. "procès" is meant as "processus". Thus, English "process" must be measured with the Latin "processus".

The Latin "processus" was even fully adapted by French: "processus m (plural processus)". It might even be the French "-us" ending that opened up the idea of saying pro-cess-eez in English, as English does not have umlauts and might use a long "i" instead of "ue".

In Latin, the plural is pronounced with a long "u", allowing for a different sound between singular and plural, even if it is not in the Latin writing. Having the shortened "process" as singular and plural in English is thus not a good solution either, since it somehow loses the chance to change the sound between singular and plural. A plural noun like "the prossessed" would conflict with existing English usage of the verb and sounds like the transitive meaning of the verb; moreover, from the Latin view, it is like a double participle "processused", though that can be overseen as English does not have the "-us" ending and might have just replaced it with "-ed". The "-ed" is not used in the noun, which first of all means a loss of a passive character. By the same time, it is clear that "processed" makes no sense for an intransitive verb, as it would sound as if something could be processed. And intransitive verbs cannot have an object like something.


"pro-cess-eez"

"pro-cess-eez" somehow shows the passive character and does not sound that wrong at second sight, as it fulfills the needed change from singular to plural together with a hint that the "es" ending is not the same as the normal English "-es" ending. Naming the process "processee" and the plural "processees" would be even more in line with Latin than the "process" / "processes" of today.

"processee" does not exist in English, thus there is some space, and though "-ee" is normally meant for a person (I have recently read a tech blog saying "process who" but that was probably an error ;)?!), it might be a justified exception to keep the passive meaning at the lack of other noun endings ("processed" is transitive, that would be worse than just using "process" / "processes"). Mind that "addressee" can exist just because it is transitive.

One workaround could be to generally call it "processus" (short -us in singular, long -us in plural) just as the Romans did. That will sound "arrogantly educated". Yet it should be considered perhaps, since it would be a new word, which is easier than changing an existing one. I would still say that "eez" sounds better, which is most important.

Now what kind of words are available that we can compare with processus and that would justify saying "pro-cess-eez", putting together what was said above?


You cannot compare "process" with words like address, dress, stress (transitive verbs) or princess (not a verb at all).


What about other Latin u-declension words?

  • situs

"situs" (Latin and English) is Latin u-declension, coming from sinere (“to put, lay, set down, usually let, suffer, permit”) and is thus a transitive word which does not fit here. The plural is just "sites" and not "situs" in English, but as a transitive word, that does not do any harm as such.

  • status

With the Latin plural being status as well (even used as such in German), Status (Latin stare = stand) would theoretically convert to something like "stoods" (plural) in English, though English made "states" out of it. The passive character is not fully lost in the plural since the "t" somehow keeps up a part of the participle. Using "sites" does not seem to be a problem, a hint that "pro-cess-eez" is not needed, but it is a word ending on "t-us" and is thus not directly comparable with "-ess" where the "us" was dropped.

  • abscess and any other word ending on "cess" from cedere with u-declension should have the same pronunciation as process.

  • fetus: There is no real verb as the base, coming from Proto-Indo-European. It seems that "fetus-eez" is the trend here as well, which would be in line with the u-declension and perhaps the very old origin.


Latin transitive words without u-declension

  • premises / promises: This gets an "-eez" perhaps because its transitive participle changes from "-missus" till "-mise", which seems to follow a rule. "missus" is also not far from "cessus", both have the "ss", perhaps that is even the whole rule. Or the "-eez" stresses that the participle is taken over as the noun by replacing the "-us" with "-e", which could be a rule as well.

"Los Angeleez" might come from the Spanish background which flags it as special. Speaking the English "Angel" in Angeles is against its Spanish origin, and the "eez" is perhaps just a marker that something else has been changed against the origin. Moreover, the "-es" ending is the Spanish "-es", no the English, that itself could already be "marked".


West Germanic intransitive words

"sit - sat - sat --> seat / seats" shows that a change from participle to noun is normal. If you allow for an imaginary "processee / processees" even for items, in order to show the passive character, and if you took the commonly known writing of "process / processes" as a given, changing the sound at least for the plural towards a long ending seems not a bad idea.


The end of it all

A lot of text for a 50 % guess, which is as follows. "process" of Latin "processus" just sheds light upon a trend with a possible rule in it.

"-eez" has this slightly passive character in the pronunciation of some endings of rather rare Latin words (u-declension, -cess, -miss) and seems to work as a flag for speciality as such. Using it will raise the thought that something is going on and no one would know what is was. Which could explain "process-eez", and which could even justify it in my eyes. Be it humor about a takeover from a wrong French takeover from a vague Latin word that is now perhaps influenced by the right Latin-French again or not. The English language seems to have so much chaos from its added Italic words and is so much different in pronunciation from what is actually written that such new trends are not surprising.

It might also be just good fashion to use "eez" as a flag to mark unnormal changes from borrowed words, not important if that flag sounds / is wrong in the borrowed or English language. Main thing is that there is no conflict with cases like "addressees". Moreover, any weak "es" at the end sounds less melodic than a short middle vocal and a long "eez" at the end.

Sources: mostly Wiktionary and the other answers

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    What do you mean "the Latin processus was fully adopted by French, with the singular and plural being the same again? The reason the French singular and plural for procès are the same is because the word ends in "s", not because the Latin singular and plural were spelled alike. Consider the Latin word apparatus, whose plural is apparatus. The French singular is apparat and the French plural is apparats. Jan 1 at 20:58
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    Wiktionary is not an authoritative, accurate, or reliable reference.
    – Mitch
    Jan 1 at 21:31
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    As far as I can tell from looking online, for both procès and apparat, in the process of Latin turning into French, they dropped the ending and regularized the declension. But procès in French became restricted in meaning to legal, and a few other specialized, usages. They then borrowed processus directly from Latin for the other meanings of procees. Jan 1 at 23:00
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    @Mitch I might post a question on meta asking for references that support your diffidence. I think Wiktionary today is reliable and extremely useful for learners and native speakers alike. What precisely is unreliable and inaccurate about this entry?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 2 at 20:06
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    It seems to be a plausible explanation but I have nearly always steered clear of pronunciation Qs because I am not a linguist. I like Wiktionary, it's not the first dictionary I turn to but its etymology notes I have found to be trustworthy.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 2 at 20:27
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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/.

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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”.

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    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'. Dec 13 '13 at 9:40
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    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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