What is the plural of diocese? Easy, you might think – it’s dioceses. Ah yes, but how do you pronounce it? Until 1999, and the tenth edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, no help was given by most ‘ordinary’ dictionaries. They said nothing at all about the plural, with the implication that it was regular: di-o-ce-ses (4 syllables). This is still the case for the English Pronouncing Dictionary, and the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation. However, starting in 1990 with his first edition, John Wells noted in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary that an alternative was to make an analogy with analysis ~ analyses.

An older spelling for diocese was ‘diocess’. If we had kept this spelling, perhaps the plural, ‘diocesses’, would have stood more chance of surviving. We already have abscess ~ abscesses, and process ~ processes.


  1. I thought I was the only one who was so perturbed about this one!

  2. It’s interesting to note what people go for to make the plural. I work in a college training vicars and so get a fair bit of exposure to how people suddenly realise that they have no models to go on and that the ‘regular’ syllabification doesn’t lend itself to euphony. I like the ‘diocis’/’dioses’ version which is a regular, modelled presumably on words such as ‘analysis’/’analyses’. Mostly we end up with ‘diocis/dioceses’ (sorry, can’t get easy access to IPA for comments at the moment).

  3. andii
    There are no colleges ‘training vicars’; they prepare candidates for ordination as deacons and priests, some of whom later hold the office of vicar (or rector etc)

  4. I pronounce it “die-oh-sieze” and the singular, of course, as “die-oh-siss”.

  5. I’m with Stephen K. “Die-oh-seez” is an unusual if not unique plural formation, but it is clearly different from the singular and it has been, I would say, almost universally adopted. The anglophone world is tolerant, and I would not interfere with purists and other OCD-afflicted folk who stick with “die-oh-sis-iz” They will be understood by most hearers, but they are doomed to marginality. By the way, I am a third generation American, raised in Connecticut, with a postgraduate degree in English. I graduated from a Catholic university, so I heard “die-oh-seez” quite a lot. But I have been a Unitarian Universalist for decades, so dioceses are not very important in my life.

  6. I too prefer that the plural of diocese be pronounced “Die-oh-seez”.
    This only leaves me with the problem of how to spell it (Only interested in UK English here!)
    Obviously, if it’s spelt dioceses then it should be pronounced “die-oh-sis-iz” but I can’t come up with my preferred spelling short of using the same for both singular and plural; or could there be dioceese? [certainly can’t find it in any dictionary!]
    Can anyone help?

  7. Charles – No one else seems to be willing to stick their head above the parapet on this. I believe that your pronunciation of the plural of ‘diocese’ is one that has arisen by analogy with such words as ‘analysis’, where the plural follows the Greek pattern and changes the -i- to -e-: ‘analyses’, pronounced quite regularly as “aNALyseez”. It has arisen because ‘diocese’ ends similarly to ‘analysis’. But the written plural of ‘diocese’, equally regularly, adds -s to the end: ‘dioceses’, and as you say, the pronunciation ‘ought’ to be “die-oh-sis-iz”. But this is an awkward word to say – all those /s/ sounds! I wonder how you pronounce the plural of ‘treatise’. Do you say “treatises” as it is spelled, or do you say “treateez”, like “die-oh-seez”?

  8. gpointon,

    I’ll stick my head above the parapet as you have bravely done.

    To make an analogy with ‘analysis/analyses’ or ‘crisis/crises’, as others have done, is simply incorrect. The word in question, in the singular, is, as we all know, not ‘diocis’, but ‘diocese’! It is certainly the case that this same word ‘diocese’ may be pronounced ‘diocis’, though that is not the only pronunciation. In the US (where they almost always get this one right! I’m British, by the way), it is more common to pronounce it as ‘diocees’ or ‘dioceez’ (and I’m still talking about the singular here). All three pronunciations just mentioned (‘diocis’, ‘diocees’, ‘dioceez’) are given in the Collins Dictionary and in the OED. Note well: we are STILL talking about the singular ‘diocese’. And it is specifically because it can be pronounced ‘diocis’ that some people get the plural wrong, making a faulty link with ‘analysis’, ‘crisis’ etc.

    Now, here is why it is wrong to make the analogy with ‘analysis’, ‘crisis’ or other words of that type derived from Greek.
    Our word ‘analysis/analyses’ follows the Greek ‘analysis/analyseis’ pattern; and our ‘crisis/crises’ follows the Greek ‘crisis/criseis’ pattern. But this pattern will not work for ‘diocese’.
    The word we spell as ‘diocese’ (and pronounce variously and correctly as ‘diocis’, ‘diocees’ or ‘dioceez’) comes, NOT from some imaginary Greek word like ‘diocis’, BUT in fact from the four-syllable Greek word ‘dioecesis’, the plural of which is ‘dioeceseis’.

    So, for the simple fact that our word is ‘diocese’, and manifestly not ‘diocis’, the plural should be written ‘dioceses’ and pronounced as ‘dio-ceezes’ (although I should add that the pronunciations ‘dio-ceases’ and even ‘diocisses’ would not be incorrect, as they are still pronunciations of the word ‘dioceses’).

    Therefore, write only ‘diocese’ for the singular, and only ‘dioceses’ for the plural;
    and say only ‘diociss’, ‘diocees’ or ‘dioceez’ for the singular, and only ‘dioceezes’, ‘dioceeces’ or ‘dioceezes’ for the plural.

    The irony is that a bit of misused Greek knowledge has led some into the mistake of never using the correct plural (‘dioceses’), which is actually closer to the Greek than the English singular ‘diocese’.

    Furthermore, it is perfectly correct to use ‘crisises’ (pron. of course ‘crisis-iz’) as the plural of ‘crises’.

  9. I agree that ‘dioceeze’ sounds right and is easy to enumciate. Spelling? How about dioce’es. The omitted letter is an ‘s’ of course – giving a nod to its derivation from the singular form.

  10. Richard

    Absolutely right. A little knowledge can go a long way in the wrong direction. And something being “easier to say” is almost always the wrong standard to use. Appeal to laziness, I believe.

  11. Someone objected to laziness being a factor in determining a correct pronunciation, but the fact is that laziness very often changes a word under the license of “common usage.” Whether or not the spelling is ever changed is, for the most part, moot. Witness “temperature” having become “tempicher” almost universally, and “facts” becoming “facks.” “Understand” has morphed into “unnerstan” and antibiotics into “annibiodics.”

    Being a song writer, I use “dioceezes” because it happens to rhyme with “Jesus.” Since every new song on that subject is likely to be controvertial, all the more reason to do that.

  12. If it’s any help, Fowler’s Modern English Usage gives dioceses as the plural of diocese.

  13. Barry – Of course! That is what prompted the post. How many other words do you know where the normal plural marker, the final ‘s’, is added to the spelling, but then the plural in its pronunciation realises this, not as an additional syllable, as would usually be the case (‘horses’, for example), but as a lengthening of the preceding vowel?

  14. how about see (singular) and sees Plural and do away with diocese

  15. Clive – That sounds like a very good idea to me!

  16. The only really brave (and correct) answer came from Richard. Bravo, Richard…well done!

  17. Ernest –
    An alternative solution would be to go back to the spelling that was frequent until the 19th century – diocess (see the full entry in the OED). Then, just as the plural of ‘abscess’ is ‘abscesses’, so the plural of ‘diocess’ would be ‘diocesses’, and there could be no doubt about the pronunciation.
    It is dangerous to assert that one form, and one form only, is ‘correct’ – what is accepted by a majority of speakers at one period of history may be condemned by a majority at a later date, only to come back into favour again later still. ‘You was’ is now condemned, but was acceptable, and even the norm in certain circles during the 18th century. Who is to say that it will not become the accepted form again at some point in the future?

  18. I know someone who is in the position of teaching the Catholic faith to a lot of people who seems to work backwards on this: He pronounces the plural word dioceses as DIE-uh-seez, but (perhaps *because* that’s how he pronounces the plural), he doesn’t pronounce the final s/z sound in the singular. In otherwords, he says DIE-uh-see instead of DIE-uh-seez or DIE-uh-sis (the latter being how our bishop pronounces the word). Is there any justification for this? Has anyone ever heard of this?

  19. Mary – This is a new one on me, but I suppose it’s a back formation exactly like the one which has created “pea” from “pease”: “Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding in the pot, nine days old.” It might be reinforced by the alternative word for a diocese – “see”.

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