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I am confused when talking about a general idea using "our life" when sometimes I feel like using "our lives". Please tell me the correct answer with appropriate explanation.

  • the word our is the plural version of my so you would say in singular my life and in plural our lives – zeitue Aug 5 '12 at 7:07
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    @TaylorBioniks: You don't need to use a plural noun with a plural possessive adjective. You can definitely say "our house". The difference is semantic, not grammatical as you suggest. – hippietrail Aug 5 '12 at 12:47
  • @hippietrail ah sorry, I thought he was to multiple lives not a single shared life – zeitue Aug 6 '12 at 4:52
  • @TaylorBioniks: No problem. Grammar definitely supports the construction and when presented with the shared life example so do semantics though at first they might seem not to. – hippietrail Aug 6 '12 at 7:53
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    Here are thousands of instances of "our life is short", and I seriously doubt many of them are specific to the lives of, say, a couple living together. It's perfectly normal to refer to human lives collectively in the singular. – FumbleFingers Aug 6 '12 at 13:24
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These examples illustrate when you would want to use the singular versus plural of life:

  1. Our lives have been very different.

  2. Our life together has been very happy.

In (2), I imply that we have shared a life, hence we jointly have had one life. In (1), I imply the opposite (different lives have to be counted separately). Consequently, the singular is felicitous in (2), but not in (1).

Felicitous does not mean obligatory, though. You can also say:

  1. Our lives together have been very happy.

This is possible because we each have a life and it is possible to spend them together. Personally, I prefer the singular though.

By contrast, you completely change the meaning by using the plural in:

  1. Our life has been very different.

This no longer means “different from each other’s lives”, but implicitly contrasts with someone else’s life (or lives).

  • Surely "Our life together" must take the singular has? – Andrew Leach Aug 5 '12 at 7:52
  • @AndrewLeach. Geshplunn, indeed. I’ll fix that at once! – Daniel Harbour Aug 5 '12 at 8:31
  • In the last example, it could mean our life together was different from what was expected or planned. – bib Aug 5 '12 at 11:25
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I have seen many things in my life.

would become

We have seen many things in our lives.

Note that 'I' changes to 'We' as does 'my life' which changes to 'our lives'. In other words, you would use 'our lives' when talking in the plural ('We'), and 'my life' in the singular ('I').

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    Can you say: We’ve seen many things in our life together? Works for me, but this may not be universal. – Daniel Harbour Aug 5 '12 at 7:27
  • @DanielHarbour It works for me too as we are talking about a shared_/_married life (together). There also the proverbial cat saying something like: "I have wasted (all) my lives drinking milk ...". I didn't want to confuse the OP with rarer cases :) – coleopterist Aug 5 '12 at 7:32
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Which form you choose (life or lives) depends on which meaning you are going after.

One meaning of "life" is:

life (n.) The period from birth to death.

But a separate meaning is:

life (n.) A particular type or aspect of human existence. The events and experiences that are typical of a particular place or group of people.

(From Merriam-Webster.com, oxforddictionaries.com, and macmillandictionary.com.)

When talking about a single person, there's a lot of overlap between the two definitions and the meanings might be sort of smeared together. But when referring to two or more people, the distinction is more important. In that light, you would always use the plural to refer to the lives of two or more people according to the first definition. But you could use the singular to refer to the life shared by two or more people according to the second definition.

In fact, it will be your use of the singular or plural which will often indicate which meaning you have in mind.

-3

The usage of life in singular form is meaningful as we all share one life—denoting shared existence. fraternity, equality etc. Once we make clones, we can say lives (life + clones).

protected by tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 14:27

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