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.
These examples illustrate when you would want to use the singular versus plural of life:
Our lives have been very different.
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:
- 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:
- 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).
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.