What is the difference between "live" and "alive"? When would I better use the first and when the latter?

Say, there are several players actively participating in a game and some others are waiting on the bench. I used to call those "active" players "live players". Although there may be other valid phrases for that I believe this one should be ok as well (right?).

But I am unsure if "live" works with questions: can I ask "Is this player live" or should it be "Is this player alive"? The first one sounds awkward to me, but the latter sounds to me as if I was asking whether he's dead and not only whether he's out of the game.

  • 1
    Do the examples in a dictionary help? Eg, see ODO on live and alive. If not, please edit the question to say what the problem is.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 18, 2012 at 11:35
  • 3
    Part of the difficulty is that both words have several meanings. For some of those meanings the words may be interchangeable, or close, for others not.
    – bib
    Oct 18, 2012 at 11:40
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think "alive" is used only whenever that's opposed to "dead", while "live" may be opposed by "inanimate", "artificial", "pre-recorded" and all other variations. There were live/alive worms in your food? Did you expect dead worms in your food? If not, they were live, not alive.
    – SF.
    Oct 18, 2012 at 12:31
  • 1
    possible duplicate of What is the story behind "a-" prefix / suffix?. Essentially, prefixing [verb] with a- implies actively continuing to perform [verb]. Something which is alive is actively so, as opposed to simply being live rather than dead. Oct 18, 2012 at 12:50

2 Answers 2


It sounds as if you are trying to convey a binary status such as active and inactive. This is one of the many meanings of live

2.: exerting force or containing energy: as
a : afire, glowing live coals
b : connected to electric power
c : charged with explosives and containing shot or a bullet live ammunition;
also : armed but not exploded a live bomb
d : imparting or driven by power a live axle
e : being in operation a live microphone

Each of these uses suggest the ability to turn the status on or off. This is a common usage in American English.

It is true that alive can also convey active status

2 . a : still in existence, force, or operation : active kept hope alive
b : still active in competition with a chance of victory must win to stay alive in the playoffs

However, this usage is not common where there is little direct control over the alive status. One would not say an alive circuit or alive ammunition. In fact, alive is more often used as a predicate adjective than an ordinary modifier.

The passengers were alive!

  • +1 predecate adjective
    – GEdgar
    May 8, 2022 at 11:00

Generally, live is an attributive adjective, and alive is used as a predicate adjective; in other words, live is usually placed directly before the noun, and alive is generally not.

These are live goldfish.
These goldfish are alive.

Lexico's definition of live (adjective sense 1) and alive (sense 1) are "not dead or inanimate; living" and "[predicative] living, not dead".

There are several other differences in shades of meaning, some of which you can figure out by looking at the rest of the definitions, but this is the main difference. There are also exceptions to this rule; for example, if you are talking about real-time broadcasting, electrical wires, or ammunition, you always use live, even in predicate position.

This is live television.
Watch what you say; this television broadcast is live.
Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!

  • Let's remember the old-time poster with the outlaw's photo: Wanted / Dead or Alive, and Molly Malone:' Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"'
    – DjinTonic
    May 8, 2022 at 23:09

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