April 4, 2012

Pronouncing "permit"

Here's something that makes my skin crawl.  I have noticed many people pronouncing the noun "permit" with the stress on the second syllable, /per-MIT/: "Can I get a per-MIT to do this?"  I believe that it's /PER-mit/ and dictionaries agree with me, although some list /per-MIT/ as a secondary pronunciation.  Everyone thinks the verb is the one pronounced /per-MIT/.  So saying "the city gave me a /per-MIT/" sounds wrong.

A change in stress occurs in other noun-verb homographs--compare the noun /PRO-duce/ to the verb /pro-DUCE/.   As with "produce," the noun usually stresses the first syllable, and the verb the second syllable.  Here's a good list. This change in stress carries over to the nominalized form of the verb--/pro-DUC-tion/ is a noun that comes from the /pro-DUCE/, not the verb noun /PRO-duce/.  Whence we get second syllable stresses in /per-MIT-ting/ and in /per-MIS-sion/, the noun form of the verb /per-MIT/.

Curiously, there seems to be another series.  A government's procedure for issuing a (noun) /PER-mit/ is called the /PER-mitting/ process; in making a verbal gerund out of the noun, it ignores the second-syllable stress the verb typically gets.   So we now have /PER-mitting/ as well as /per-MIT-ting/.

Of course, this latter series won't exist if you pronounce the noun /per-MIT/.  By the way, I can't tell if per-MIT is a regionalism, and I've exhausted the dictionaries on the reference shelf at the New York Public Library.


  1. Obviously you are suffering from severe OCD, but you are correct. My girlfriend almost vomits when I say perMIT.