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The noun life when denoting "a way or manner of living" (MW) or "living things considered together" is used in singular, but when it means "the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body" (also MW ibid.) shouldn't it be a count noun that appears in plural when referring to a plurality of lost lives?

Why do people say the loss of American life then? It's apparent that life here means "a vital or living being" or such a quality, which is not to be confused with "This American Life", where life supposedly takes the meaning of "a way or manner of living".

Examples:

Biden "expressed sorrow at the tragic loss of American life."

In July 2006, when CBS and the New York Times asked, "Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq, or not?"

“I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success,” he said.

It occurred to me to ask this question when watching a Henry Kissinger talk (Yes, I know English wasn't Kissinger's first language.) where he apparently said,

What we face now is whether the United States not just will withdraw its forces, which we achieved, and not just will stop the end of the loss of American life, but whether it will deliberately destroy an ally by withholding aid from it in its moment of extremity.

Very interestingly, when The New York Times printed a transcription of this news conference, they changed it to lives.

What we face now is whether the United States not just will withdrdaw [sic] its forces, which we achieved, and not just will stop the end of the loss of American lives, but whether it will deliberately destroy an ally by withholding aid from it in its moment of extremity.

  • Either way is fine. – Hot Licks Mar 21 '18 at 19:52
  • 'Living things [beings not excluded] considered together' covers this. But either works equally well here. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 21 '18 at 19:52
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    Consider: 1) Using "life" rather than "lives" implies an "uncountable" aspect, which may better fit the spirit of the utterance. 2) "Loss of life" is a well-established idiom. 3) "Loss of life" is a long-established term in insurance-speak. books.google.com/ngrams/… – Hot Licks Mar 21 '18 at 20:17
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    Again, I think you will hear it both ways, and to my ear, they mean something ever so slightly different. I would suggest "life" is to "lives" as "time" is to "minutes" ... to some degree (some degree). "lives" are specific people who died .. "life" is more generally the amount of human experience that will not be ? – Tom22 Mar 21 '18 at 20:20
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    I think the MW entry for loss of life is a little more relevant here than the page linked :P – Laurel Mar 21 '18 at 21:29
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I'm not sure it's so complicated. To me, a "loss of American lives" means more than one life. A "loss of American life" means one or more lives.

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    The question specifically asks about referring to the plural. "shouldn't it be a count noun that appears in plural when referring to a plurality of lost lives?" – Phil Sweet Mar 23 '18 at 16:54
  • And the answer is no, that's not necessary because "life" can refer to one or more lives. – J Bones Mar 27 '18 at 11:10
  • Spot on, I think. "life" or "loss of life" can refer to one or more individuals because "life" is conceptual - is the state of being alive. A place can be "teaming with life", indicating many individual living beings, so "life" and "loss of life" are clearly being used in the conceptual, not individual form. In this manner, yes, I think "loss of life" can refer to one or many, of course. Let's ignore "not just will stop the end...". Whoops!? I think he accidentally doubled his negative there... – shermy Mar 30 '18 at 10:28
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Both are correct.

I assume "the loss of American life" is treating the noun phrase "American life" as a collective noun. This is the only valid construction, at any rate.

If you view this country, particularly its inhabitants, as being bound together by a common set of laws and a core set of beliefs, it is conceivable that "American life" makes sense this way.

  • citations(s) are needed to lend validity to your answer – lbf Mar 23 '18 at 19:01
  • I don't understand the request for citations. If two or more Americans die and a comment is made regarding the "loss of American life", then either the sentence is incorrect (number/plurality disagreement) or the subject is a collective noun. We already treat "life" by itself as a collective noun, e.g., "Life finds a way." Am I supposed to link to the Wikipedia article on collective nouns? – DoubleD Mar 26 '18 at 20:11
  • "loss of life -heavy losses (=when a lot of people die)" macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/loss-of-life – MikeJRamsey56 Mar 27 '18 at 22:33
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Life is just a bowl of cherries.
That's life.
Welcome to college life.
Is there intelligent life in the universe?
They have yet to find life on Mars.
Biology is the study of life.
Life begins at 30.

The state of American society...
He is studying American literature.
People here like American music.
Let's not get started on American democracy...

I honestly don't find anything odd about "the loss of American life". 'Life' can be uncountable or countable. Google offers:
"the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death."
You could call it loss of life when that stops, rather than "lives".

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