When grammar is becoming a challenge, on-premise vs. on-premises

Did you also notice, that many of us in technology have adapted to the incorrect use of the word “premise” when referring to the traditional model of running servers in a datacenter, on-premises? You know, this operating model, where you can still touch your servers and see their lights flashing. Feels a bit like grammar police, and we probably all have better things to do than worry about this. I won’t judge you if you skip ahead.

Me being non-native English there is probably minimal room to challenge others on grammar, but “premise” and “premises” are two different words which mean two completely different things. Let’s check what dictionary.com provides:

  • Premises – a house or building, together with its land and outbuildings, occupied by a business or considered in an official context.
  • Premise – a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion. Something assumed or taken for granted.

In the context of cloud computing, it makes total sense to use on-premises when referring to something being on your property. However, somehow the masses are gravitating towards on-premise, maybe because it reads and sounds better. As we just “learned” it’s simply wrong. I wouldn’t have a problem with individual end users or IT Pros mixing the terms – not everyone is a grammar geek – but also seems more and more people even at Microsoft and other vendors are adapting to the incorrect way (reverse alphabetic order): VMware | SAP | RSA | RedHat | Microsoft | Mailguard | LogMeIn | Citrix

In my role as a reviewer and mentor of peers at Microsoft, I call this out (along with the correct use of product spelling). However, it feels like I’m acting like Ted Mosby correcting people as it came up…

Grammar How I met your mother Ted Mosby

We all have these silly stories on terms that we got wrong for so much of our lives. In this case, I’m sure quite a lot of people simply don’t know. Before more people like Brian Madden or Jeff Woolsey get upset:

on-premise Brian Madden

Let’s think about it; the two terms do not mean the same thing and are not interchangeable. Can this be an evolution of language? The English language is always evolving, and new terms are made up regularly. Moreover, even its technically wrong, we will understand what was meant, right?

A simple trick might do it: if you’re not sure or want the word to be short – why don’t you go with “on-prem”, a widely accepted abbreviation of on-premises. Not that Wikipedia is an authoritative source for this, but authors for the “on-premises” article on German Wikipedia have already settled for “on-premises” and “on-prem” being okay and call out the problem with “on-premise”.

Probably more habits are worth trying to change out there as not everyone is a wordsmith. Maybe the problem is solving itself when all servers are migrated to the cloud on one day…
… or do we have to let it go and accept all the variations, even they might be wrong? As a closing thought, you don’t know how your customer/stakeholder would react by using on-premise – it could be seen as sloppy if they are in love with the dictionary.

There’s just one more thing…

My friend Florian keeps telling me that there’s no such thing as “AAD” it is “Azure AD”. That may be more of a branding thing – yet – he keeps bringing it up and beats me with a stick when I get sloppy in e-mails, blog posts or PowerPoint presentations.


6 thoughts on “When grammar is becoming a challenge, on-premise vs. on-premises”

  1. I wonder why the “s” can give a very different meaning to the same word? Do they come from very different etymology? I am curious hahaha… If you know the story, please share it with us. Thanks!

  2. I literally just sent a note out to my colleagues who have been responding to RFP/I’s with “on-premise” that it is incorrect usage. Yet today, 2 weeks after that, we received an RFI from a financial institution with on-premise referenced in 4 of the questions. …..we may lose this battle!

  3. My CEO says On-Premise constantly. That’s NOT A WORD! It means nothing! It’s pretty infantile to assume removing the “s” makes it singular, we know better. But then again, most people are parrots and on auto-pilot and don’t question anything.

  4. The on-premise term is like a virus propagating in the IT world, making smart people look inferior. Every time I here someone say on-premise incorrectly I die little bit inside. I hear it from CIO’s, VP’s, Senior IT people with 20yrs experience.. It is everywhere and it has to stop!

  5. I hate, “On-Premise. It makes my back teeth hurt.
    Pasgetti (for Spaghetti), supposibly (for supposedly), and Virtal (for virtual) too.


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