What is the correct way of pronouncing the i in "short-lived"?

Particularly, I'm looking for whether it's a short or long sound for this vowel. I've heard it both ways.

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    Great question; I had never realized there were multiple pronunciations in common use! – Kosmonaut Nov 16 '10 at 19:35
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    How about "short-lifed"? Never heard it, but it makes sense. – Jon Purdy Nov 19 '10 at 4:33
  • Short-lived - LONG I - is the correct pronunciation. That's what I was taught at Wazzu, Ed Murrow's alma mater. Communications graduates and broadcasters who didn't pay attention in school are responsible for its continued misuse and adoption by the public and official references that are too lazy to check. – user4527 Feb 3 '11 at 0:01

10 Answers 10


Both short and long i are acceptable. AHD gives the following usage note:

The pronunciation (-laɪvd) is etymologically correct since the compound is derived from the noun life, rather than from the verb live. But the pronunciation (-lɪvd) is by now so common that it cannot be considered an error. In the most recent survey 43 percent of the Usage Panel preferred (-lɪvd), 39 percent preferred (-laɪvd), and 18 percent found both pronunciations equally acceptable.

Wiktionary agrees with that usage. Other dictionaries (Wordnik, Dictionary.com) list both pronunciations without comment.

Personally, I almost always use the short i like in 'give'.

(I'd give the two pronunciations slightly different connotations, something like short-i = it was around for a short time and it's already dead/gone, long-i = it's still around but won't be for long.)

  • (I added in the IPA symbols for the two different "i" sounds, since they got stripped out of your quote.) – Kosmonaut Nov 16 '10 at 19:34
  • Thanks Kosmonaut, I was working on doing the same thing, but your version is more understandable, so I rolled back my edits. – Marthaª Nov 16 '10 at 19:37
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    I don't believe I've ever heard it with aɪ. – Colin Fine Nov 17 '10 at 13:03
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    I still hate the short i version. Triumph of the ill. – Robusto Feb 13 '20 at 16:39

Evidence for the long I pronunciation is in Gilbert & Sullivan's “Pirates of Penzance”:

To gain a brief advantage you've contrived,
But your proud triumph will not be long-lived

Since, as far as I know contrived was never pronounced with a short I. It was written over a hundred years ago and in song, but Gilbert was a clever rhymer and most of his work sounds like (fairly) normal speech apart from the invented words (like piratical).

  • But Gilbert made us sing at school when we did Iolanthe that That every boy and every gal That's born into the world alive Is either a little Liberal Or else a little Conservative! – Michael Harvey Apr 21 at 21:43

Adding my $.02 after these many months:

I, for one, pronounce these expressions with a long i. My argument is that if something has a long life it is long-lived. The vocalization of the f sound to make it v doesn't mean we need to consider the word to be derived from the verb "live"; instead it is from the noun life. We don't use a short i when we we say a cat has nine lives, we use the long version.

Think of the parallel with knife. If someone is attacked with a sharp knife, you would say it was a "sharp-knived attack." If a cat truly had nine lives, it would be nine-lived (long i).

That said, I'm sure the other usage will eventually rid the world of us "long-lived" (with a long i) speakers, since we are only long-lived and not immortal.

  • I wonder if this varies geographically? @Martha’s answer cites a survey with 39% preferring laɪvd; but to me (as to some other commenters) it sounds quite, quite wrong — I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard it in real life — so I’m pretty sure the speech communities I’ve lived in didn’t have 39% using laɪvd. Although, I do agree that it’s more logical! – PLL Jun 8 '11 at 5:44
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    Thanks for the parallel of knife! That clinched it for me... I'll still use the short form since I cannot easily shake it, but will no longer flinch and question when I hear the long version. – Marius Mar 12 '14 at 19:54

I checked a couple dictionaries which list both the long and short i as correct pronunciations. Anecdotally, I've typically heard the short i, and that's how I pronounce it.


I favor the long i version based on the progression short life, short "lifed", short-lifed, short-lived (laivd). My original thought was to compare this with such compounds as even-handed, long-winded, etc., but having read the comments favoring short-lived with a short i I am more ready to accept the short i as a reasonable variation.


Geographic/cultural. Canadians/UK say lived with a short I. Americans, in general, say lived with a long i. I use it as one of the key words separating Americans from Canadians.

  • That squares with my observation too. – Erik Kowal Oct 29 '14 at 9:16

As further evidence in favor of the long-I pronunciation, I offer two points to show that "lived" is derived from the noun life rather than the verb (to) live.

First, the phrase is analogous to common phrases such as red-handed, pointy-eared, wide-eyed, long-winded and short-haired. These phrases may be seen as participial phrases where X + ed is derived from a noun phrase X, reanalyzed as a verb meaning "having X" used in its past participial form to function as an adjective. An example of this using a single noun rather than a noun phrase is a lidded pot. On the contrary, there is no analogous verb-derived construction. If someone has slept for a long time, we do not say that the person is *long-slept, nor do we form such a phrase with an adverb and say that a person who has walked for a short time is *shortly-walked.

Second, there is the question of the unvoiced f in life becoming v in long-lived. This happens frequently, as in half (noun) and halve (verb). It can also happen when a singular noun is pluralized, as in knife (singular) and knives (plural). It also happens with consonants other than f and v. Examples include s, where the difference is not usually reflected in spelling, as in house (noun, /haʊs/) and house (verb, /haʊz/). There are also other examples where this is accompanied by a change in the vowel, including bath (noun) and bathe (verb).


I am not yet convinced of the long-I version. And, incidentally, the argument that long-lived is related to life doesn't wash for me. It may be related, but so is the simple word live, which has the long I as an adjective (as in "live bait" or a "live broadcast"), but short I as a verb ("We all live in this house."). If I live a long time, I am probably long-lived (short I).

The "knife" example doesn't help either, as this word always sports a long I (knife/knives/knifed/knived).

  • There are countless analogous phrases based on nouns, where noun X is reanalyzed as a verb to mean "provided with or possessing X" and used as a past participle: red-handed, long-eared, wide-eyed, short-haired. There are none based on other verbs: * long-slept, * short-walked. – phoog Jun 3 '20 at 14:52

Longman DCE has short-lived BrE /i/, AmE /ai/.


"Short" is an adjective. Adjectives describe nouns, not verbs. Therefore, the "lived" in "short-lived" must be referring to the noun "life" as opposed to the verb "live." If one were to pronounce the i in the short fashion, implying a verb instead of a noun, one ought to say "shortly-lived." As far as any arguments concerning phrases such us "fall short," or "rest easy," I'll say that just because a phrase is in common usage, that doesn't make its grammar correct. On the other hand, language itself and its evolution certainly precede any official rule-making about what's correct and what's not, so one could argue that if a certain utterance is indeed in common usage, we ought to consider it an acceptable option. Of course, that would mean sanctioning such awful grammar as the over-corrected "and I" phenomenon, as in, "One of my students gave Adam and I a gift certificate to an amazing restaurant. We had the most amazing food. It was truly amazing."

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    This doesn't answer the question, which is about pronunciation. – Rory Alsop Dec 17 '13 at 23:39
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    I apologize. I thought it was clear that if one says "short-lived" instead of "shortly-lived," one must use the long i, as "lived" in that instance is directly coming from "life." – user59987 Dec 17 '13 at 23:45
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    well that would also be incorrect, as lived only ever refers to the past tense of the verb live, which has a short i. – toryan Dec 17 '13 at 23:50
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    @toryan: life becomes "lived" in "short-lived", just as leaf becomes "leaved" in "green-leaved". – user59987 Dec 18 '13 at 1:54
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    The logic behind this answer is factually incorrect. In compound adjectives of the type adverb-participle, the adverb part is always in its underived form. With adverbs derived from adjectives by adding -ly, the underived form is the adjective itself; with true adverbs, it is of course the adverb in its base form. Compare for example a well-bred dog (true adverb) with a thoroughbred horse (adjective), or an ill-fitting (true adverb) sweater with a tight-fitting (adjective) one. *Shortly-lived is simply not a possible compound adjective in English. This doesn’t mean [cont’d -->] – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 16 '14 at 18:30

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