My Russian-speaking friend recently used this one in asking me a question: "do you think there is living in space?" while using the gerund "living" in place of a noun.

To me it sounds horribly wrong--I would say: "do you think there is life in space?" or "do you think there are living things in space?" but I'm having trouble justifying this with an actual rule or convention on why.

I want to say that the definition of "living" as a gerund or noun refers to the condition of being alive and not a living thing itself, and can't be a replacement for the word "life", but I'm not confident that this is really the reason.

  • I would say living being instead of living thing. Apr 26, 2014 at 1:55
  • They don't mean the same. Check a dictionary for living and for life. Tell us what you found. Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Apr 26, 2014 at 4:49

1 Answer 1


Both sentences are equally grammatical. It's not about grammar, it is entirely about meaning. Your hunch is exactly right. You cannot replace life with living for the same reason you can't replace it with beer or The Simpsons: it just doesn't mean the same thing.

In addition, there is a morphological phenomenon that actually makes life vs. living special as opposed to life vs. beer or life vs. car or what have you. It's called "blocking". We already have the word life to mean "life", so its existence blocks the noun living from getting created with the exact same meaning. If it is to get introduced and get any traction (which it did), then only to cover a meaning different from that of life (and so it does).

So you can say "living in space", "make a life", "get a living". They are just as grammatical as "life in space", "make a living", "get a life". They just won't mean the same thing. Because, well, that's what different words do. That's why we have them in the first place. Otherwise they'd be the same word.

All of this is just as true of Russian, of course. You can't just go around replacing жизнь with житие, живность, живот or животное.

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