“Premises” (= a house or building) has a curious history. Originally, it denoted in law the part of a deed that sets forth the names of the grantor and grantee, as well as the things granted and the consideration. Then, through hypallage, it was extended to refer to the subject of a conveyance or bequest, specified in the premises of the deed. Finally, it was extended to refer to a house or building along with its grounds. In short, someone who says, “No alcohol is allowed on these premises” is unconsciously using a popularized technicality.
The term is always used in the plural — e.g.: “These premises were originally let in 1957 by the appellant’s predecessor in title.” Paul Magrath, “Variation of Lease Did Not Create New Tenancy,” Independent, 14 Sept. 1995, at 12.
It is pronounced /PREM-i-siz/, not /-seez/.
Unfortunately, some people (misunderstanding the term and its history) have begun referring to “this premise” when they mean “this piece of property.” In 2003, a famous San Francisco steakhouse sported an unidiomatic, ill-premised sign inside the front door: “No alcohol may be taken off this premise.”
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Quotation of the Day: “Beginning writers want to start with large abstractions, in the mistaken belief that the bigger the topic is, the more there is to say about it. It doesn’t work out that way. Usually the first sentence of the essay tells whether the writer knows this or not. Essays on friendship that begin ‘Friendship is one of the most important things in life’ are doomed, because the writer doesn’t know it. Essays that begin ‘Mary was my best friend in high school’ will thrive, because the writer does know it.” Jack Rawlins, “Five Principles for Getting Good Ideas,” in About Language 10, 13 (William H. Roberts & Gregoire Turgeon eds., 2d ed. 1989).