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life definition


This page has 28 definitions of life in English. Life is a noun and interjection. Examples of how to use life in a sentence are shown. Also define these 55 related words and terms: state, organism, death, metabolism, reproduction, inanimate, object, be, alive, live, biology, animal, plant, fungi, bacteria, virus, replication, animate, principle, force, dynamic, relevant, lifeform, individual, worthwhile, aspect, social life, period, retirement, life sentence, parole, lively, biography, nature, reality, opportunity, existence, video game, player, baseball, softball, cricket, batter, bat, misplay, fielding, playground, dodgeball, insurance, life insurance, life assured, life assurance, policy, single life, and God's life.

See also: Life


Alternative forms


From Middle English lif, lyf, from Old English līf (life, existence; life-time), from Proto-West Germanic *līb, from Proto-Germanic *lībą (life, body), from *lībaną (to remain, stay, be left), from Proto-Indo-European *leyp-, *lip- (to stick, glue). Cognate with Scots life, leif (life), North Frisian liff (life, limb, person, livelihood), West Frisian liif (belly, abdomen), Dutch lijf (body), Low German lif (body; life, life-force; waist), German Leib (body; womb) and Leben (life), Danish, Norwegian and Swedish liv (life; waist), Icelandic líf (life). Related to belive.



life (usually uncountable, plural lives)

  1. (uncountable) The state of organisms preceding their death, characterized by biological processes such as metabolism and reproduction and distinguishing them from inanimate objects; the state of being alive and living.
    Having experienced both, the vampire decided that he preferred (un)death to life.  He gave up on life.
    1. (biology) The status possessed by any of a number of entities, including animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and sometimes viruses, which have the properties of replication and metabolism.
    • Plant definition
      An organism that is not an animal, especially an organism capable of photosynthesis. Typically a small or herbaceous organism of this kind, rather than a tree. (1 of 15 plant definitions)
    • Virus definition
      A submicroscopic, non-cellular structure consisting of a core of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat, that requires a living host cell to replicate, and often causes disease in the host organism; such agents are often classed as nonliving infectious particles and less often as microorganisms. (1 of 5 virus definitions)
  2. The animating principle or force that keeps an inorganic thing or concept metaphorically alive (dynamic, relevant, etc) and makes it a "living document", "living constitution", etc.
    • Force definition
      Strength or energy of body or mind; active power; vigour; might; capacity of exercising an influence or producing an effect. (1 of 13 force definitions)
  3. Lifeforms, generally or collectively.
    It's life, but not as we know it.   She discovered plant life on the planet.   The rover discovered signs of life on the alien world.
  4. (countable) A living individual; the fact of a particular individual being alive. (Chiefly when indicating individuals were lost (died) or saved.)
    Many lives were lost during the war.   Her quick thinking saved many dogs' lives.
    • 2014 June 14, “It's a gas”, in The Economist, volume 411, number 8891:
      One of the hidden glories of Victorian engineering is proper drains. Isolating a city’s effluent and shipping it away in underground sewers has probably saved more lives than any medical procedure except vaccination.
  5. Existence.
    Man's life on this planet has been marked by continual conflict.   the eternal life of the soul
    • 1918, Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Land That Time Forgot, Chapter VI:
      " [] I realize as never before how cheap and valueless a thing is life. Life seems a joke, a cruel, grim joke. You are a laughable incident or a terrifying one as you happen to be less powerful or more powerful than some other form of life which crosses your path; but as a rule you are of no moment whatsoever to anything but yourself. You are a comic little figure, hopping from the cradle to the grave. Yes, that is our trouble—we take ourselves too seriously; but Caprona should be a sure cure for that." She paused and laughed.
    • 2013 June 1, “Towards the end of poverty”, in The Economist[1], volume 407, number 8838, page 11:
      But poverty’s scourge is fiercest below $1.25 (the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines, measured in 2005 dollars and adjusted for differences in purchasing power): people below that level live lives that are poor, nasty, brutish and short.
    • 1994, Violet Quill, Robert Ferro
      Most things in life, including life itself, seemed to have articulated sections, discrete and separate and straightforward.
    1. A worthwhile existence.
      He gets up early in the morning, works all day long — even on weekends — and hardly sees his family. That's no life!  His life was ruined by drugs.
    2. A particular aspect of existence.
      He struggled to balance his family life, social life and work life.   sex life, political life
    3. (informal) Social life.
      Get a life.
    4. Something which is inherently part of a person's existence, such as job, family, a loved one, etc.
      She's my love, my life.   Running the bakery is her life.
  6. A period of time during which something has existence.
    1. The period during which one (a person, an animal, a plant; a civilization, species; a star; etc) is alive.
      This light bulb is designed to have a life of 2,000 hours.
      • 1908, W[illiam] B[lair] M[orton] Ferguson, chapter IV, in Zollenstein, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, OCLC 731476803:
        “My Continental prominence is improving,” I commented dryly. ¶ Von Lindowe cut at a furze bush with his silver-mounted rattan. ¶ “Quite so,” he said as dryly, his hand at his mustache. “I may say if your intentions were known your life would not be worth a curse.”
      • 1916, Ezra Meeker, The Busy Life of Eighty-Five Years of Ezra Meeker
    2. The span of time during which an object operates.
      • 2016, Christine Barbour, Gerald C. Wright, Keeping the Republic (→ISBN):
        Even if the bill's life is brief, the member who introduced it can still campaign as its champion.
    3. The period of time during which an object is recognizable.
      The life of this milk carton may be thousands of years in this landfill.
    4. A particular phase or period of existence.
      • 2011, Ehud Lamm, Ron Unger, Biological Computation (→ISBN), page 90
        This would require that reproductive cells do not exist early on but rather are produced during the organism's adult life from the gemules sent from the various organs.
    5. A period extending from a when a (positive or negative) office, punishment, etc is conferred on someone until that person dies (or, sometimes, reaches retirement age).
      • 2001, Cynthia L. Cates, Wayne V. McIntosh, Law and the Web of Society (→ISBN), page 73:
        Typically, an appointed judge is appointed for life.
      • 2013, Mahendra P. Singh, German Administrative Law (→ISBN), page 108:
        As a general rule the judges of the administrative courts are appointed for life, i.e., they continue in their office till the completion of sixty-eight years in the Federal Administrative Court[.]
      1. (colloquial) A life sentence; a period of imprisonment that lasts until the convict's death (or, sometimes, parole).
    • Parole definition
      Originally, one's oath or word of honour, given as a condition of release from custody; now specifically, describing the release of a former prisoner under certain conditions, especially the promise of good behaviour. (1 of 7 parole definitions)
  7. Animation; spirit; vivacity.
    • 1711, Henry Felton, Dissertation on Reading the Classics
      No notion of life and fire in fancy and in words.
    • 1807, William Wordsworth, To A Highland Girl
      That gives thy gestures grace and life.
    1. The most lively component or participant.
      • 1970, Mathuram Bhoothalingam, The finger on the lute: the story of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati, National Council of Educational Research and Training, p.87:
        "Don't I know that it is you who is the life of this house. Two delightful children!"
      • 1998, Monica F. Cohen, Professional domesticity in the Victorian novel: Women, work and home, Cambridge University Press, page 32:
        And he is the life of the party at the Musgroves for precisely this reason: the navy has made him into a great storyteller.
  8. A biography.
    His life of the founder is finished, except for the title.
    • 1741, Conyers Middleton, Life of Cicero
      Writers of particular lives [] are apt to be prejudiced in favour of their subject.
  9. Nature, reality, and the forms that exist in it.
    • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 1, in The Celebrity:
      The stories did not seem to me to touch life. They were plainly intended to have a bracing moral effect, and perhaps had this result for the people at whom they were aimed. They left me with the impression of a well-delivered stereopticon lecture, with characters about as life-like as the shadows on the screen, and whisking on and off, at the mercy of the operator.
    • 2010, Brad Steiger, Real Monsters, Gruesome Critters, and Beasts from the Darkside (→ISBN):
      The experts also agree that the bushmen only painted from life. This belief is borne out by the other Gorozamzi Hills cave paintings, which represent elephants, hippos, deer, and giraffe.
  10. An opportunity for existence.
    • 2012, Cindy Champnella, The 12 Gifts of Life (→ISBN):
      The photo book represented my promise to her—a new life—and she desperately clung to that promise.
    1. (video games) One of the player's chances to play, lost when the player's character dies or when certain mistakes are made.
      Scoring 1000 points is rewarded with an extra life.
      • 1988, David Powell, Rygar (video game review) in Your Sinclair issue 25
        Spend the time killing things and there's a bonus for each hit - but only for fatalities notched up since the start of your current life.
    2. (baseball, softball, cricket) A chance for the batter (or batting team) to bat again, given as a result of an misplay by a member of the fielding team. [from the 1860s[1] through at least the 1930s]
      • 1915 June 24, Philadelphians on the Diamond, in The New York Lumber Trade Journal, volume 59, oage 42:
        Borda sent a hot liner to G. Kugler, who made a nifty pick-up, but threw wild at first, giving the batter a life.
      • 1930 May, Boys' Life, page 49:
        But shortstop Tenney, on what should have been the game's last out, gave a First Team batter a life on first, when he let a ground ball slip between his legs.
    3. One of a player's chances to play in various children's playground games, lost when a mistake is made, for example being struck by the ball in dodgeball.
    • Baseball definition
      A sport common in North America, the Caribbean, and Japan, in which the object is to strike a ball so that one of a nine-person team can run counter-clockwise among four bases, resulting in the scoring of a run. The team with the most runs after termination of play, usually nine innings, wins. (1 of 3 baseball definitions)
    • Softball definition
      A game similar to baseball but played with a larger and softer ball which can be thrown overhand or underhand. (1 of 3 softball definitions)
    • Misplay definition
      To play incorrectly or poorly.
  11. (uncountable, insurance) The life insurance industry.
    I work in life.
    • Life Insurance definition
      A form of insurance on the life of a person. If the person dies then the insurance policy pays out a sum of money to the beneficiary (such as a person's family).
  12. (countable) A life assured under a life assurance policy (equivalent to the policy itself for a single life contract).
    • 1862, Ellen Wood, The Channings:
      He renewed two lives which had dropped.



  • (the state that precedes death): death
  • (biology): coma
  • (philosophy): void

Coordinate terms

Derived terms

Related terms


See life/translations § Noun.



  1. (obsolete) Synonym of God's life (an oath)
    • God's Life definition
      An oath.

Further reading


  • life at OneLook Dictionary Search
  • life in Keywords for Today: A 21st Century Vocabulary, edited by The Keywords Project, Colin MacCabe, Holly Yanacek, 2018.
  • life in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.
  • life in The Century Dictionary, New York, N.Y.: The Century Co., 1911.
  1. ^ Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary