Definition of life in English:

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Pronunciation: /līf/

noun (plural lives /līvz/)

1The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death: the origins of life
More example sentences
  • The dark green color was chosen because it represents life, nature, growth, and ecology.
  • As blood is pumped around the body, it carries oxygen and nutrients that are essential for life.
  • For life to evolve, simple molecules have to combine to form more complex ones.
existence, being, living, animation;
sentience, creation, viability
dedicate oneself, devote oneself, give oneself, surrender oneself
1.1Living things and their activity: some sort of life existed on Mars lower forms of life the ice-cream vendors were the only signs of life
More example sentences
  • The hedge is teeming with wild bird life and just now, at the height of the nesting season, a model of industry.
  • As they entered, they walked through a hallway and into the living room in search of a sign of life.
  • The tide was way out and most of the bird life was as well, but I was happy to wait and see how the rising tide would affect them.
living things, living beings, living creatures, the living;
human/animal/plant life, fauna, flora, ecosystems;
1.2 [with adjective or noun modifier] A particular type or aspect of people’s existence: an experienced teacher will help you settle into school life revelations about his private life his father decided to start a new life in California
More example sentences
  • Their polytheistic view influenced every aspect of their daily lives.
  • Much progress have been achieved in all aspects of their daily lives.
  • Have we forgotten that interaction and association are important factors in the social lives of humans?
way of life, lifestyle, situation, fate, lot
1.3Vitality, vigor, or energy: she was beautiful and full of life
More example sentences
  • The juxtaposition of my somewhat flatly morbid work with the life and vitality of the farm is quite provoking.
  • The two of them together are a dynamic team, full of energy, life and very headstrong.
  • They were full of energy and life and argued their convictions against the war convincingly.
informal oomph, pizzazz, pep, zing, zip, vim
moving spirit, vital spirit, spirit, life force, lifeblood, heart, soul
2The existence of an individual human being or animal: a disaster that claimed the lives of 266 Americans she didn’t want to die; she loved life
More example sentences
  • Those of us who presume to speak for the lives of individual animals need to observe our subjects very carefully indeed.
  • One of the defining evils of terrorism is that it uses human beings' lives to send a political message.
  • So he owes us an explanation why only the lives of human beings are sacred.
person, human being, individual, soul
2.1A biography: a life of Shelley
More example sentences
  • He also began work on his life of 17th century biographer and antiquarian John Aubrey.
  • There were various poems, legends, saint's lives, chronicles and similar literature.
2.2Either of the two states of a person’s existence separated by death (as in Christianity and some other religious traditions): too much happiness in this life could reduce the chances of salvation in the next
More example sentences
  • Since then, life after death as well as death between lives has been a fact for me, not just a belief.
  • Either God is there or he isn't; either there is a life after death or there is not.
  • Well sorry to tell you but if there is a life after death and you get there and don't like it then too bad.
2.3Any of a number of successive existences in which a soul is held to be reincarnated (as in Hinduism and some other religious traditions).
Example sentences
  • It is only the rarest few who have come to earn this privilege in past lives.
  • He called the earth to witness his many good deeds of past lives and so justified his seat in that place.
  • Alleged memories of past lives are usually obtained by a procedure called hypnotic regression.
2.4A chance to live after narrowly escaping death (especially with reference to the nine lives traditionally attributed to cats).
Example sentences
  • A cat has to catch and kill only one rabies infected mouse and it too will be dead and buried long before it lives out its nine lives.
  • To this day he is living not only as someone with nine lives, but he is living the life of a new man.
  • Ross the cat is looking for a new home before Christmas where he can retire and live out the rest of his nine lives.
3 (usually one's life) The period between the birth and death of a living thing, especially a human being: she has lived all her life in the country I want to be with you for the rest of my life they became friends for life
More example sentences
  • Some priests and priestesses served for life, others for a set period, usually a year.
  • There is no job for life - only a life of worry about how to make ends meet and whether your pension will last as long as you.
  • On the physical level, a car crash which brings you close to the point of death may leave you paralysed for life.
lifetime, life span, days, time on earth, existence
3.1The period during which something inanimate or abstract continues to exist, function, or be valid: underlay helps to prolong the life of a carpet
More example sentences
  • Meanwhile new moments in the life of the nation continue to inspire songs.
  • This refers to the life of the machine and cannot be transferred to the next one you purchase.
  • The lids seal tight, prolonging the shelf life of the contents.
3.2 informal A sentence of imprisonment for life.
Example sentences
  • He was sentenced to life and is currently in Wakefield top security prison.
  • In England and Wales the same offence is treated as rape where the maximum sentence can be life.
  • He was sentenced to life in December last year for the murders of the girls.
4(In art) the depiction of a subject from a real model, rather than from an artist’s imagination: the pose and clothing were sketched from life [as modifier]: life drawing See also still life.
More example sentences
  • It took him a mere two hours to sculpt his subject from life in wax before going on to mould the likeness in his unique paste.
  • The large back room features portraits drawn from life - the actual rather than the ideal.
  • As a result it became a real practical proposition to use the apparatus for making drawings from life.



bring (or come) to life

Regain or cause to regain consciousness or return as if from death: all this was of great interest to her, as if she were coming to life after a long sleep
More example sentences
  • He died and came to life again and hence conquered death.
1.1(With reference to a fictional character or inanimate object) cause or seem to be alive or real: he brings the character of MacDonald to life with power and precision all the puppets came to life again
More example sentences
  • Children relate to puppets from their earliest years as they are used to making inanimate characters come to life.
  • Even better were the real life characters brought to life by the cast of players who were involved every week.
  • He had a supernatural presence, almost like a fictional character come to life.
1.2Make or become active, lively, or interesting: soon, with the return of the peasants and fishermen, the village comes to life again you can bring any room to life with these coordinating cushions
More example sentences
  • It never ceased to amaze him how she could make a long reading assignment come to life and be interesting.
  • The village of Gorthganny came to life with the sound of traditional music, song & dance recently.
  • Houses have stories to tell, and it's only in the hands of a good guide that the anecdote-laden rooms truly come to life.
become active, come alive, wake up, awaken, arouse, rouse, stir
literary waken

do anything for a quiet life

Make any concession to avoid being disturbed.
Example sentences
  • The amount I donate is pathetically little compared to how much I spend on books, but there you are - we've already established I do anything for a quiet life.
  • But you get the feeling he'll do anything for a quiet life.
  • I will normally do anything for a quiet life but on this occasion I couldn't.

for dear (or one's) life

As if or in order to escape death: I clung to the tree for dear life Sue struggled free and ran for her life
More example sentences
  • After he had been interrogated, and fearing for his life, he escaped through a police station window.
  • Decaying gangs of the shambling undead fire out words and phrases at you, and you have to hammer them back, quickly, accurately, desperately, typing for your life.
  • I spent days three and four fighting for my life, desperate to gain the trust of my opponents.
desperately, with all one's might, for all one is worth, as fast/hard as possible, like the devil

for the life of me

informal However hard I try; even if my life depended on it: I can’t for the life of me understand what it is you see in that place
More example sentences
  • They came flat, encased between two pieces of hard clear plastic, which I could not open for the life of me.
  • I cannot, for the life of me, understand why this book has made me dwell on my lack of friendships this evening.
  • I could not, for the life of me, find my wedge of Parmesan cheese.

frighten the life out of

Example sentences
  • So it was that in 1394 the young king landed at Waterford and, like others in later times, decided that he would adopt a strategy of ‘shock and awe’ that would frighten the life out of the Irish.
  • He said: ‘It frightens the life out of you, something like this.’
  • Say we didn't pick up on something and there was an accident, we would be the ones liable and that frightens the life out of me.

get a life

[often in imperative] informal Start living a fuller or more interesting existence: if he’s a lout, then get yourself out of there and get a life
More example sentences
  • Most of us must make a fateful choice: should we devote our time and talent to making a living - or to getting a life?
  • But with both the league, union and rules seasons about to start, it really is time certain rugby union types got a life and focused on the challenges and problems facing their own code and leave rugby league to our own!
  • Now it's about time that these guys got a life and came out of the dark ages - they're living in the Civil War era!

give one's life for

Die for.
Example sentences
  • There is nothing worth giving your life for, it's all about survival.
  • I think you aren't wholly alive until you know what you would be willing to give your life for.
  • Perhaps one of the things war monuments and graves do is to make you reflect on whether you would have the mettle to give your life for what you felt was right.
die for, lay down one's life for, sacrifice oneself for, offer one's life for, die to save

(as) large as life

informal Used to emphasize that a person is conspicuously present: he was standing nearby, large as life
More example sentences
  • In their original testimony, they claimed to have been working when he wandered in, large as life, in the company of a man resembling the person described by her as their attacker.
  • But when they lined up for the team picture before their Champions League semi-final, there he was, large as life, and preserved for posterity.
  • I doubt that you would sanction drinking and gambling on such a scale, but there you are as large as life, directly above the club's reception desk.

larger than life

Seeming disproportionately important, interesting, etc.; attracting much attention: your problems seem larger than life at that time of night
More example sentences
  • The larger than life owner attracted some of the biggest acts of the 60s and 70s to a grateful Leigh, as well as raising thousands of pounds for local charities.
  • He is a colourful character, larger than life, fun, friendly and always joking.
  • He was a larger than life character - jovial, outgoing, hugely personable.

life and limb

see limb1.

the life of the party

A vivacious and sociable person.
Example sentences
  • Described as vivacious and the life and soul of the party, she was never short of an invitation to a charity gala on South Africa's high society circuit.
  • Three days before her death, we held our annual Happy Halloween party, and she was the life of the party.
  • He's not the life of the party, but he's the guy talking about the life of the party, or making fun of the life of the party.

life in the fast lane

see fast lane.
Example sentences
  • Maybe it's the California lifestyle - life in the fast lane.
  • Her brother Steve said: ‘Despite her health problems she lived her life in the fast lane and was always laughing.’
  • Yet despite the sub-zero temperatures and heavy, leaded skies almost touching the land, I reflected that Norfolk offered a meaningful and quite spiritual respite from life in the fast lane.

one's life's work

The work (especially that of an academic or artistic nature) accomplished in or pursued throughout someone’s lifetime.
Example sentences
  • The son seems to have made posturing against his father's accomplishments and beliefs his life's work.
  • Some people, when they're told they have terminal illnesses, start planning for after life: writing memoirs, completing their life's work, sorting through their photo albums or whatever.
  • Like the swarms of people who flock to Web sites devoted to the study of genealogy, company owners who fall into their life's work through happenstance or inheritance may feel rootless, even disaffected.

lose one's life

Be killed: he lost his life in a car accident
More example sentences
  • The man who killed him also lost his life, but it was generally agreed that the sacrifice was worth it.
  • Luckily this time no-one lost their life, but 11 people have been killed in 70 days of chaos on our roads, and police are predicting more carnage in the summer months ahead.
  • The deceased lorry driver lost his life when he was forced to swerve his vehicle in an effort to avoid a small boy and drove into a lamp post.

a matter of life and death

A matter of vital importance.
Example sentences
  • It is a truth barely appreciated that government not only matters, but it is a matter of life and death that the right people run it.
  • Yet as well as turning York into one big traffic jam, these roadworks are also making life even more difficult for ambulance drivers, whose journeys are essential and can be a matter of life and death.
  • However, for people who need vital organs replaced, the deficiencies of artificial substitutes are a matter of life and death.

not on your life

informal Said to emphasize one’s refusal to comply with a request: “I want to see Clare alone.” “Not on your life,” said Buzz
More example sentences
  • M. thinks it's awful and wanted to get in here and paint everything white and put down carpet and I told her not on your life, this room is mine.
  • Mac smiled: ‘Speaking for myself, I'd say ‘not on your life.’
  • It will continue to happen but as for just a stunt, not on your life Robyn.

save someone's (or one's own) life

Prevent someone’s (or one’s own) death: the driver of the truck managed to save his life by leaping out of the cab
More example sentences
  • He was only going to surrender under the threat of death to save his own life.
  • If he decided to jump off the train and saved his own life, he could do so without injury.
  • He blamed himself for saving his own life instead of returning to the burning buildings to help others.
informal17.1 Provide much-needed relief from boredom or a difficult situation.

see life

Gain a wide experience of the world, especially its more pleasurable aspects.
Example sentences
  • But if you want to see life as it is and travel and meet other people, buy a motorhome, Ron said.
  • The camp activities not only brought these children from such diverse places but also gave them an opportunity to see life in the raw.
  • And - and to me, here was a chance to jump off that kind of wagon and see life for real.

take one's life in one's own hands

Risk being killed.
Example sentences
  • I also took my life in my hands by visiting a Kurdish barber.
  • Yesterday I took my life in my hands and cleared out my garage.
  • Today I took my life in my hands and spent it in the company of many three-year-olds!

take someone's (or one's own) life

Kill someone (or oneself).
Example sentences
  • Well I almost robbed a bank and in the process my brother was killed and I took a man's life.
  • It brought it back, a lot of painful memories but it helped me to, you know, put a face to the person that killed my sister, and almost took my life, and it just it was helpful.
  • The coroner recorded verdicts that the boys were unlawfully killed and their father took his own life.

that's life

An expression of one’s acceptance of a situation, however difficult: we’ll miss each other, but still, that’s life
More example sentences
  • It has been pretty difficult, but that's life, isn't it?
  • My close friends have been very supportive of my modelling, but some of them have been difficult, but I guess that's life.
  • One approach is to accept that that's life, and people have to make choices for themselves and their kids.
the way of the world, the way things go, the human condition;
fate, destiny, providence, kismet, karma, fortune, luck, chance
informal the way the cookie crumbles, the breaks

this is the life

An expression of contentment with one’s present circumstances: Ice cubes clinked in crystal glasses. “This is the life,” she said
More example sentences
  • After I directed, when I went back to being an actor, I was like, ‘God, this is the life!’
  • I'm not sure many of the holidaymakers here were too happy when 20-odd footballers all barged into the hotel reception but, you have to say, this is the life!
  • Bronzed bodies and muscles, ah yes this is the life and I am enjoying every minute of it.

to the life

Exactly like the original: there he was, Nathan to the life, sitting at a table

to save one's life

[with modal and negative] Even if one’s life were to depend on it: she couldn’t stop crying now to save her life


Old English līf, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch lijf, German Leib 'body', also to live1.

  • The English word life is related to German Leib ‘body’, and also to leave (Old English), and live. The expression as large as life goes back to the days when portrait painting was common. Professional artists were expensive, and a good way of showing off your wealth was to have a portrait painted that was life-size. Early versions of the expression, dating from the mid 17th century, are greater or bigger than the life, with the modern form first recorded in the early 19th century. When someone lives the life of Riley they are enjoying a luxurious and carefree existence. Reilly or Riley is a common Irish surname, and the phrase may come from a popular song of the early 20th century called ‘My Name is Kelly’. This included the lines: ‘Faith and my name is Kelly Michael Kelly, / But I'm living the life of Reilly just the same.’ It is probable that the songwriter, H. Pease, was using an already existing catchphrase, but the song would have made it more widely known.

Words that rhyme with life

fife, Fyfe, knife, pro-life, rife, still-life, strife, wife

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: life

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