Live life

The noun life, the verb live and the adjective live often cause confusion for English language learners, especially the plural noun and the 3sg verb lives, and the base verb and the adjective live (in each case, same spelling, different pronunciation). Life can only be a noun, but even then could be uncountable or countable singular. 

Especially when they are reading out loud, students might say something like “Computers and mobile phones are an essential part of our /lɪvz/“. This is partly because of the fact that the plural of life is lives, not lifes – I don’t think any student would mistake “our lifes”. I usually explain it by comparing his life and their lives with they live and he lives.

The earliest adjective was alive (from a + life), and live is a reduction of that. Alive can only be predicative: Two of my grandparents are still alive v *My alive grandparents live in Adelaide. Live can only be attributive or predicative: a live wire and No-one realised that the wire was live. But after any other verb than [be], live becomes an adverb: The concert was broadcast live. Then there’s lively, which, despite being adj + ly, isn’t an adverb, but another adjective: a lively girl and The girl is lively. (It’s actually life + ly, compare friendly.) Of these, only lively has comparative and superlative forms: you can’t be liver or aliver (even though you just might be deader than a doornail), but you can be livelier.  

In addition to these, there is also liver (one who lives, not the body organ), enliven and liven, then an open-ended list including liveliness, livelihood, livewire and liveable. Other words starting with live are unrelated, including the body organ liver (perhaps from Greek liparós fat (noun)), livery (from Old French livree, an allowance of food, clothing etc to a servant) and Liverpool (a pool of thick or muddy water, which is possibly related to the body organ liver because the ultimate PIE root of liver/liparós is *leip- “to stick, adhere”) .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s