I don’t like to be “that guy”, correcting meaningless mistakes of grammar/usage/pronunciation in conversation, because for whatever reason it’s considered rude or thoughtless. But if the mistake you’re making is hypercorrection, pointing that out must be… hypocorrection? Which, by extrapolation, must then be polite and thoughtful (/s).

Despite my belief that prescriptivism in language is useless, it still feels grating to my ears when I hear incorrect usage. I don’t care about being right, or winning an argument about it, I just care about the truth being known. So, I don’t bring it up in person. But that doesn’t mean I won’t write about it.

Around 2012 I started noticing people pronouncing the word processes as “processEEZ” instead of “processIZ”. As far as I am aware, there is no rule of English pronunciation that says to do this. I think what happened is that someone misremembered the rule for pluralization of -x words, and started applying it all over the place like a crazy person.

To be specific:

  • Most words are pluralized by appending the letter “s”, which is pronounced as “z”, like in “birds”.
  • Singular words ending in one “s” are pluralized by adding “es”, which is pronounced as “iz”, like in “buses”. Words ending in “sh”, “ch”, “se”, “z” are treated similarly.
  • The fairly unusual case: words ending in “x” are sometimes pluralized by adding “es”, which is pronounced as “ih-sees”, like in “matrices”.

This third case only applies to certain words ending in “x”. For example, “thorax”, “vortex”, and “matrix” are pluralized with the third rule, but “climax”, “complex”, and “fix” are pluralized with the second rule. I can imagine that this is determined by etymology, but I don’t see an obvious pattern.

Clearly, not even all “-x” words use the “ces” spelling and “ih-sees” pronunciation. So, I found it pretty confusing when I started hearing words that don’t even end in “x” being pluralized this way as well. This appears to be a perfect example of hypercorrection to me.

If that’s not convincing enough, consider these other examples, none of which are usually pluralized with the third rule.

  • Words ending in “ss”: cross, mass, truss
  • Words ending in “ess”: congress, dress, press, goddess, mattress
  • Words ending in “cess”: success, excess, access, recess, princess

Note that as this list progresses, the suffix match with “process” increases in length.

“Processes” should be pronounced “processIZ”.


Ruler and compass construction of a heart

Upgrading my bike accessories