The premise behind my business premises

Here’s a word problem that I’m suddenly noticing a lot: ‘premise’ being used instead of ‘premises’ … as in ‘everything handmade on premise’ in the example below.

The usual pattern of English would suggest that ‘premises’ (as in place of business) is plural, and its singular should be ‘premise’. But that’s not the case.

My trusty Oxford Dictionary makes it clear.

  • ‘Premises’  is a house or building, together with its land and outbuildings, occupied by a business or considered in an official context. The word is used as either a singular or plural noun.
  • ‘Premise’ is a previous statement from which another is inferred, or an underlying assumption. It is a singular noun.

Bill Bryson makes it even clearer in his handy book ‘Troublesome Words’: ‘Premises is always plural when referring to property. There is no such thing as a business premise’.

I became acutely conscious of this distinction when I was writing information about residential tenancy. It took some time to accept that I might need to write ‘The premises is …’. It is, perhaps, something that business owners, café sign writers, and real estate agents need to learn.