"... making the life of millions of people happier ..." or "... making the lives of millions of people happier ..."

The first one could be interpreted as "every person lives one single joint life", while the second one could mean that everyone has more than one life.

But of course I would like to say the "third option in between", that is everyone has one life, but the number of lives equals to the number of people, so there is not only a single life everyone shares.

What is the correct structure for saying that? Can I pick one from the aforementioned two so that it won't be ambiguous, or do I need to use some different structure?

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    Strongly related if not actually a duplicate: Remind your wife/wives.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 15:01
  • 1
    You've always got the ambiguity in English. cars of the men. How many each? It's still grammatical and idiomatic. In your case, both 'the life of millions of people' (a mass usage; compare 'life is for living')) and 'the lives of millions of people' (a count usage; compare 'hundreds of lives were lost') are acceptable. Not many people would reckon on other than one life (count usagee) per person. Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 15:27
  • Try replacing the words: painting the houses of hundreds of residents versus painting the house of hundreds of residents. The latter suggests a single house with hundreds of housemates.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 13:18
  • @Barmar That's not a reasonable comparison. addressing the condition of hundreds of residents, where 'condition' isn't strictly count, is fairer. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 17:03
  • @Andrew Leach I don't think that string addresses the count / noncount duality of nouns like condition, life. That covers the device of addressing the individual in a plural audience ('Take your protractor in your left hand ...). Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 17:07

1 Answer 1


Unless context suggests otherwise, I would interpret "making the lives of millions of people happier" to have your intended meaning.

Your other sentence fragment ("life" singular) sounds more poetic to me and would make me stop and think about the meaning. I don't mean to imply that is necessarily a bad thing: the sentence does not sound wrong to me, just unusual.

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