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The problem came up when I wanted to make some corrections to one’s paper.

… when someone is successful in their lives, …

Which I thought it should be life.

Here are some examples from dictionaries which made me more baffled when I wanted to understand whether to use the countable life or not. (Some of the sentences are actually the same)

To give someone more control over their own life or situation.

The idea that women should take control over their own lives or situations.

And:

We shouldn’t make moral judgements about the way people live their lives.

The way people live their life.

And:

Every aspects of their private life.

Every aspect of their private lives has been laid bare.

Millions have bought the book to spice up their sex lives.

Things that people use in their ordinary life.

They sacrificed their personal goals for their family life.

One may argue that it doesn’t matter if it is plural or not, it is uncountable nevertheless. Is that the case?

It would be great if someone could provide a detailed answer.

  • I think it does, but these dictionary phases are saying otherwise – Duck Aug 10 '18 at 20:49
  • I think it might acually be if they the writer belives in having more than one life – Duck Aug 10 '18 at 20:50
  • you are talking about singular vs plural, not countable vs uncountable. and most of the discrepancy seems to revolve around singular they and/or whether to use a singular or plural noun when the subject is actually plural – 9fyj'j55-8ujfr5yhjky-'tt6yhkjj Aug 10 '18 at 21:17
  • It should be life. Someone is singular. their is used as singular they. – Jim Aug 10 '18 at 21:58
  • Going back, that the problem came up when you wanted to make (some) corrections… isn’t promising, I’m sorry to say. Corrections to “… one’s” paper will work in almost no circumstances; to “… someone’s” paper would work but still, how could it help? Will you really not distinguish between “someone” and “people” being successful in “their” lives? If you can’t face “someone” being successful in “his” or “her” or even “his/her” life, why not use “someone being successful in life”? Broadly, is it easier to change the language, or our usage of it? – Robbie Goodwin Nov 3 '18 at 20:47
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If you are talking about a single person, then use the singular life:

Hers was a good life.

If you are talking about multiple people, then use the plural lives:

They put their lives at risk for their country.

To refer to your example sentences:

To give someone more control over their own life or situation.

This is a singular subject, so it's life.

The idea that women should take control over their own lives or situations.

This is a plural subject, so it's lives

The way people live their life.

This sentence is wrong. People is plural, so it should be lives. The following would be a correct singular construction:

The way each person lives their own life.

Here, it's a singular third-person pronoun.


Of course, if you're talking about a figurative cat, then perhaps you can get away with using lives . . .

  • Thanks for your answer, but all the example sentences are from dictionary. – haha Aug 11 '18 at 6:26
  • @haha I don't understand. You wanted an explanation for when one word is used over the other, which is what I was providing. The fact that they are from a dictionary doesn't mean that the usage is understandable. If it were, you wouldn't have been confused. :) Also—the one example I flagged as incorrect, I still believe to be incorrect. It doesn't matter if it was from a dictionary or not; they are not infallible. – Jason Bassford Aug 11 '18 at 8:49
  • I agree with every other word you posted but how can you justify "The way each person lives their own life", please? – Robbie Goodwin Aug 17 '18 at 19:23
  • @RobbieGoodwin I know that some people don't like it, but it's the singular, gender-neutral third-person pronoun. It's been accepted by both The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Style Book, and is quickly gaining common use. – Jason Bassford Aug 18 '18 at 2:40
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Since I can't be bothered to squeeze this into 27 Comments, could you first explain how your “When” could change whether you should use countable or uncountable Life?

Further, what did you mean by “corrections to one’s paper”? Whose paper? Which paper? Why? How could that be relevant, please?

“When someone is successful in their lives…” will always be unjustifiable.

“When someone is successful in their life…” will always be questionable, but many people will insist it is acceptable.

“When someone is successful in his or her life…” will always be acceptable.

“When someone is successful in life…” will always be acceptable.

“To give someone more control over their own life…” is basically wrong, twice. It should be “To give people more control over their own lives” or to “To give someone more control over his or her own life”. Does that much make sense?

“The idea that women should take control over their own lives…” is luckily uncontentious, as is “shouldn’t make moral judgements about the way people live their lives.”

“The way people live their life” is simply wrong, though most commentators will happily subsume that into the context.

“Every aspects of their private life” is more wrong than “Every aspect of their private lives”… unless the subjects share the same private life. Immediate family members do; neighbours might; others prolly don't.

“Every aspect of their private lives has been laid bare” makes no difference at all.

“Millions have bought the book (for whatever reason)” is fine.

“Things that people use in their ordinary life” might as easily use “… lives”, the difference being complex and hardly relevant here.

“They sacrificed their personal goals for their family life” might be fine, or horrible. Depending on what you specifically meant, please consider “He/She/They sacrificed personal goals for family life…”.

  • Thanks Robbie! Dear downvoter, please care to leave a comment. – haha Aug 17 '18 at 7:26

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