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From Middle English lif, lyf, from Old English līf (life, existence; life-time), from Proto-Germanic *lībą (life, body), from *lībaną (to remain, stay, be left), from Proto-Indo-European *leyp-, *lip- (to stick, glue). Cognate with Scots life, leif (life), North Frisian liff (life, limb, person, livelihood), West Frisian liif (belly, abdomen), Dutch lijf (body), Low German lif (body; life, life-force; waist), German Leib (body), Danish, Norwegian and Swedish liv (life; waist), Icelandic líf (life). Related to belive.



life (usually uncountable, plural lives)

  1. (uncountable) The state of organisms preceding their death, characterized by biological processes such as metabolism and reproduction and distinguishing them from inanimate objects; the state of being alive and living.
    Having experienced both, the vampire decided that he preferred (un)death to life.  He gave up on life.
    1. (biology) A status possessed by any of a number of entities, including animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and sometimes viruses, which have the properties of replication and metabolism.
  2. Lifeforms, generally or collectively,
    It's life, but not as we know it.   She discovered plant life on the planet.
  3. (countable) The fact of a particular individual being alive; a living individual.
    Many lives were lost during the war.
    • 2014 June 14, “It's a gas”, in The Economist, volume 411, number 8891:
      One of the hidden glories of Victorian engineering is proper drains. Isolating a city’s effluent and shipping it away in underground sewers has probably saved more lives than any medical procedure except vaccination.
  4. Existence.
    Man's life on this planet has been marked by continual conflict.
    • 2013 June 1, “Towards the end of poverty”, in The Economist[1], volume 407, number 8838, page 11:
      But poverty’s scourge is fiercest below $1.25 (the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines, measured in 2005 dollars and adjusted for differences in purchasing power): people below that level live lives that are poor, nasty, brutish and short.
    1. (philosophy) The essence of the manifestation and the foundation of the being.
      • 1918, Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Land That Time Forgot, Chapter VI:
        " [] I realize as never before how cheap and valueless a thing is life. Life seems a joke, a cruel, grim joke. You are a laughable incident or a terrifying one as you happen to be less powerful or more powerful than some other form of life which crosses your path; but as a rule you are of no moment whatsoever to anything but yourself. You are a comic little figure, hopping from the cradle to the grave. Yes, that is our trouble—we take ourselves too seriously; but Caprona should be a sure cure for that." She paused and laughed.
    • 1994, Violet Quill, Robert Ferro:
      Most things in life, including life itself, seemed to have articulated sections, discrete and separate and straightforward.
    1. (phenomenology) The subjective and inner manifestation of the individual.
      • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 1, in The Celebrity:
        The stories did not seem to me to touch life. They were plainly intended to have a bracing moral effect, and perhaps had this result for the people at whom they were aimed. They left me with the impression of a well-delivered stereopticon lecture, with characters about as life-like as the shadows on the screen, and whisking on and off, at the mercy of the operator.
    2. A worthwhile existence.
      He gets up early in the morning, works all day long — even on weekends — and hardly sees his family. That's no life!  His life was ruined by drugs.
    3. Something which is inherently part of a person's existence, such as job, family, a loved one, etc.
      She's my love, my life.
    4. (informal) Social life.
      Get a life.
      • 1915, George A. Birmingham, “chapter I”, in Gossamer (Project Gutenberg; EBook #24394), London: Methuen & Co., published 8 January 2013 (Project Gutenberg version), OCLC 558189256:
        It is never possible to settle down to the ordinary routine of life at sea until the screw begins to revolve. There is an hour or two, after the passengers have embarked, which is disquieting and fussy.
  5. A period of time during which something has existence.
    1. The period during which one (a person, an animal, a plant; a civilization, species; a star; etc) is alive.
      • 1908, W[illiam] B[lair] M[orton] Ferguson, Zollenstein, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, OCLC 29686887 , chapter IV:
        “My Continental prominence is improving,” I commented dryly. ¶ Von Lindowe cut at a furze bush with his silver-mounted rattan. ¶ “Quite so,” he said as dryly, his hand at his mustache. “I may say if your intentions were known your life would not be worth a curse.”
      • 1916, Ezra Meeker, The Busy Life of Eighty-Five Years of Ezra Meeker
    2. The span of time during which an object operates.
      This light bulb is designed to have a life of 2,000 hours.
    3. The period of time during which an object is recognizable.
      The life of this milk carton may be thousands of years in this landfill.
    4. (colloquial) A life sentence; a term of imprisonment of a convict until his or her death.
  6. Animation; spirit; vivacity.
    1. The most lively component or participant.
      • 1970, Mathuram Bhoothalingam, The finger on the lute: the story of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati, National Council of Educational Research and Training, p.87:
        "Don't I know that it is you who is the life of this house. Two delightful children!"
      • 1998, Monica F. Cohen, Professional domesticity in the Victorian novel: Women, work and home, Cambridge University Press, page 32:
        And he is the life of the party at the Musgroves for precisely this reason: the navy has made him into a great storyteller.
  7. A biography.
    His life of the founder is finished, except for the title.
    • Conyers Middleton (1683-1750)
      Writers of particular lives [] are apt to be prejudiced in favour of their subject.
  8. (video games) One of the player's chances to play, lost when the player's character dies.
    Scoring 1000 points is rewarded with an extra life.
  9. (insurance) The life insurance industry.
    I work in life.



  • (the state that precedes death): death
  • (biology): coma
  • (philosophy): void

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The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.


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