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Lives vs. Lifes: A Comparison

Think about the following list of words: life, lifes, life’s, live, and lives. Do you know what each word means? Of course, you do! Do you know how to correctly use each one in a sentence? You may think you do, but you may be surprised. Do you know how they all are connected?


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  Teri Lapping  —  Grammar Tips
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In this article, I will define these words, compare them, and give examples of the different ways that these words are used in everyday conversation.

The word life.

The word l-i-f-e is a singular noun, pronounced with a long “i”, rhyming with the word “wife”, describing the quality that separates a living organism from a non-existing one. 

For example, “In contrast to a cat, a dog has only one life.”

Is lifes the correct plural form of the word life?

Generally speaking, when we make a plural noun from a singular noun, we add an “s” or an “es” to the end of the word. So, following this rule, the word life becomes lifes. 

But no! The word lifes is not a word, although it is often mistaken for the plural form of the word life. Herein lies the confusion!

So, what is the correct plural form of the word life? 

The word l-i-v-e-s is a noun and is the correct plural form of the word life. It is pronounced with a long “i”, and rhymes with the word “wives”. 

For example, “In contrast to a dog, a cat has many lives.”  

This word follows a rule in English which states that, usually, if the singular form has an “f” sound at the end, like the word “life”, then in the plural form, we change that “f” to a “v” and add “s” or “es”. 

For example, “leaf” becomes “leaves”, “wolf” becomes “wolves”, and “life” becomes “lives”. 

If lifes is not a word, is there a usage for the word life’s?

Yes!

We can use the word life’s as a singular, possessive noun. For example, “The novel was his life’s work.” 

We can also use the word life’s as a contraction of the words life and has. For example, “Her life’s taken many twists and turns.” (“Her life has taken many twists and turns.”) Although we do not often write this contracted form, we often use it when we speak. 

The word live. 

Lives vs. Lifes


L-i-v-e, pronounced with a long “i”, rhyming with the word “five”, can also be used as an adjective, meaning something living. For example, “Last night I saw a live performance of Hamlet.”

L-i-v-e, pronounced with a short “i”, rhyming with the word “give”, can be used as a verb, meaning to dwell. For example, “I prefer to live in a large city.”  

When we conjugate this verb live in the third person singular, we add an “s” to the end of the word. Live becomes “he lives, she lives, it lives.”

And here we have uncovered another reason why this is all so confusing! The word “lives” is not only the plural form of the noun “life”, but also the third person singular form of the verb “live”.

To summarize:

  • Life is a singular noun and becomes the plural noun lives. 
  • Lifes is not a word at all, it is not the plural form of life, and it is never used!
  • Life’s is a word and can be used as an adjective as well as a contraction. 
  • Live is both a verb and an adjective.
  • Lives is the third person singular of the verb live as well as the plural of the word life.

So often in English, the general rules give way to exceptions, and those exceptions then have their own set of rules. Such is the case with the “v” and the “f”. 

Even a fluent English speaker might somehow find themselves writing, “Some people live their entire lifes without spelling this word correctly!”

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