I'd like to know if there is a noun phrase meaning anything will die (disappear) eventually (not limited to life, but including other things not related to life). I know an adjective for this meaning as mortal. But I want to find a noun phrase with the same meaning. The purpose is to find a noun (phrase) alternative to a classic syllogism as:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
So Socrates is mortal.

Generally, we want to know if a subject complement can always be replaced by a noun (phrase).

  • How about "life-form"? – Hot Licks Dec 12 '19 at 22:18
  • No, it could be non life related things. For life, I think mortal being is the one I am looking for. – user1006 Dec 12 '19 at 22:21
  • 1
    mortal is also a noun and carries that connotation. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Jim Dec 12 '19 at 22:24
  • I want to include other creatures or even things, not limited to humans only. – user1006 Dec 12 '19 at 22:26
  • How does "life-form" include "non life related things"? – Hot Licks Dec 12 '19 at 22:32

Since everything in the world can be divided into two categories as life and substance, and all lives will die or disappear after some times as we say all lives are mortal, while substances can last for a long time (forever) as some substances are immortal, I think I have found an answer to this question as mortal being.

  • But substances don't last forever or even for a long time in some cases. If you break an ice cube you end up with smaller pieces of the same substance, but if you "break" water into oxygen and hydrogen now you have two different substances and the water is gone. – nnnnnn Dec 13 '19 at 1:18
  • Thanks, I modified it. Also I modified the post so it becomes whether a subject complement can always be replaced by a noun (phrase) – user1006 Dec 13 '19 at 2:07

Something that will eventually cease to exist (whether it is organic and dies or inorganic and otherwise disappears) is finite:

1 b : having a limited nature or existence
// finite beings

But whether it should be finite beings, finite entities, or finite things is problematic. There is no single noun that unambiguously covers both humans and baseball bats …


As far as whether for every predicative complement (PC) there is a corresponding noun phrase (NP) which denotes exatly the things that have the property expressed by the PC, the answer is yes, this is always possible.

It is of course hard to prove a negative (that something definitely doesn't exist), and for all I know, there could be obscure counterexamples. However, as a rule, there is indeed such a correspondence.

Here is why. PCs are either NPs (in which case we are done: the NP that appears as PC is the required NP), or bare role NPs, or adjectives.

In the case of adjectives, one can always use the same adjective to build an NP (at least I can't think of an example where that's not possible). So the people are afloat leads to the NP the people who are afloat, etc.

And in the case of bare role NPs (phrases that would be NPs if they had a determiner), such as treasurer in Pat is treasurer, as best as I can tell, these are always count nouns (treasurer, secretary, president, and so on), and so one can simply use their plural form to make the required NP (e.g. treasurers).

Extra comments

  1. I don't see how mortal could apply to non-living things. No dictionary I looked at would support such usage. The adjective you actually want is more something like impermanent or transient (see e.g. Lexico).

  2. We saw that to every PC there corresponds an NP denoting the objects that have the property expressed by the PC. There is, however, in general no guarantee that there is single noun denoting the objects that have the property expressed by the PC. It is usually hard to prove a negative, but in technical fields the absence of alternatives is more obvious. So here is one definitive example of an adjective without such corresponding single noun (i.e. without a single noun denoting exactly the things that have the property described by the adjective): continuous. We can say that a function or a mapping is continuous, but English mathematical vocabulary definitely does not have a corresponding noun denoting just the objects that are continuous.

In your particular case, there is an archaic sense of a single noun that has the required meaning: creature. According to Lexico, that noun has, among others, an archaic sense whose meaning is anything living or existing. Lexico gives this sample usage:

dress, jewels, and other transitory creatures

I don't have a handy source for what I'm about to say, but I believe this usage has to do with the notion that apart from God, everything else is created (by God), and so everything else can in principle cease to exist. So we are all creatures in the sense that we are created, and thus finite. According to some (many? most?) theologies, our souls are not transient, and time alone will not make them cease to exist. But God could.

  • The noun for continuous is continuity. – user1006 Dec 16 '19 at 17:32
  • @MathWizard The point is that there is no noun that denotes all mathematical objects that are continuous. I've added some further clarifying text so it is clear that this is what I meant. – linguisticturn Dec 16 '19 at 17:39
  • Use the phrase the set of all continuous functions. – user1006 Dec 16 '19 at 17:44
  • @MathWizard Exactly. As I state in the text, one can always construct a required NP. The only thing that doesn't necessarily exist is a single noun whose meaning is (even roughly) identitcal to the meaning of an NP constructed that way. – linguisticturn Dec 16 '19 at 17:47
  • But my post includes NP. – user1006 Dec 16 '19 at 17:54

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