My question is about people who pronounce "-lived" in "short-lived" to rhyme with "dived" rather than "sieved".

I'd just like to say I've only ever heard "long-lived" pronounced in this way from North American speakers. I have only heard it pronounced this way (consciously) twice now. Three American dictionaries give both pronunciations, and strangely two of them give the "dived"-rhyming version first, even though it's definitely less common. Further, there is a usage note by the American Heritage Dictionary:

Usage Note: The pronunciation (-līvd) is etymologically correct since the compound is derived from the noun life, rather than from the verb live. But the pronunciation (-lĭvd) is by now so common that it cannot be considered an error. In our 2005 survey, 90 percent of the Usage Panel found (-lĭvd) acceptable and 75 percent found (-līvd) acceptable.

One thing I find a bit surprising is that 10% of the usage panel didn't find the more common way acceptable.

When I first heard this pronunciation I thought it was just a strange speaker. Hearing it for the second time has made me research this and realize there may be many (I don't know what proportion) who pronounce it this way.

Here are a number of videos that show this:

There are two speakers I can identify from the examples above. One is Steven Pinker, who as far as I can tell grew up until about 22 years of age in Quebec. Another is Carl Sagan, who grew up in Brooklyn and then moved to Chicago at the age of 16. Also, I've heard a late teens to early 20s age range African-American say it in this way, probably the only "young" person I've heard this from.

The thing I find interesting is that I'm sure (it being a rare pronunciation) friends and colleagues have mentioned this to them or asked why they pronounce it that way, but they seem to have continued to do so. Or maybe I'm wrong that it's a rare pronunciation?

There are some possible explanations I can think of for this:

1.The pronunciation is reflective of a regional pronunciation, however small it may be (district, street, building). I'm not sure about this, as you'd find more speakers pronouncing it this way.

2.The pronunciation is reflective of a small social group of acquaintances or family. I'm still not sure of this. I still think we would expect more instances of this pronunciation to be heard.

3.These pronunciations are just an idiosyncrasy of the individual speaker. (by idiosyncrasy I don't mean quirk or abnormal, I just mean particular to the way they speak.)

I find the last explanation the most likely. Either way it's a uniquely North American phenomenon (I think).

Does anyone have any idea of what possible influences could be affecting this particular pronunciation? Are there regions where this is more common? Is it more a function of class or age? Just personal preference? Or maybe just chance?

  • I like this question. The 'short i' pronunciation is one of my pet peeves, Didn't realize I wasn't the only one doing the 'long i' thing, (Never thought to ask.)
    – Oldbag
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 11:22
  • @Oldbag Hearing this pronunciation from an outsider's point of view will likely be very surprising. And you're saying that even as one who uses this pronunciation you hadn't noticed anyone, or few who did this? That's very interesting.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 18:43

1 Answer 1


I think the usage note that you quote explains the likely motivation of many speakers who use "long i": "The pronunciation (-līvd) is etymologically correct".

If you wanted to be unkind, you could call it an affectation. I would imagine that most of these speakers are well aware of the common pronunciation with "short i", and simply prefer not to use it because they are conscious of the fact that it doesn't use the same vowel as "life". I don't think that there are any glaring regional patterns in the distribution of this pronunciation.

You can see a number of "logical" arguments for the "long i" pronunciation in the answers to the previous question Pronunciation of "Short-lived". (One answer there suggests a difference between Canada and the US, but it doesn't seem very convincing to me.)

  • So you think speakers who do this are consciously doing this for the specific reason of etymology? I'm not quite sure about AHD's etymology point or if it's true. Using the sound of the past-participle "lived" makes as much sense to me as using the noun "life". Both I supposed are awkward as far as creating a compound adjective goes, but I find it surprising that it arose from something like "short-lifed".
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 6:42
  • @Zebrafish: Yes, I think most speakers who use this pronunciation have made a conscious decision at some point to start using it (or to keep on using it if they somehow acquired it first).
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 6:44
  • I've just checked out some compound adjectives starting with long. We have long-(noun) (eg., long-term), long-(gerund) (eg., long-serving), long-(verb + ed) (eg., long-legged, long-limbed), long-(past or past participle) (eg.,long-lost). This basis of pronouncing long-lived based on how the noun "life" is pronounced, changing the 'f' to 'v' and adding a 'd' I'm a bit suspicious about. etymonline says: "from short (adj.) + past tense of live (v.).". I'm not saying anything here other than that it sounds a rather odd line of history to me if the AHD assertion is right.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 7:20
  • On the other hand, Wiktionary says: "short + life + -ed"
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 7:28
  • I have to agree: I pronounce the 'long i'. It's definitely an affectation - as I am well aware that I'm in the minority - it's just that I'm a stickler for logic.
    – Oldbag
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 11:18

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