Grammar

Lifes or Lives? There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way

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For at least a month — it feels much longer — I’ve been seeing the same promo for a mystery program that raises the grammar question of Lifes or Lives?

If you were going to turn the word life plural, how would you write it: lifes or lives?

It’s a simple enough question, but thanks to the complexities of English, the answer gets tricky.

Speakers and writers of English must dodge plenty of twists and turns as they navigate the language. A recent promo for a crime documentary illustrates the fact that some people occasionally take a wrong turn.

The promo, running on the cable network Investigation Discovery, promotes a program called Aaron Hernandez: An ID Murder Mystery.

The spot contains a soundbite from an interview that appears in the show. A man who the spot doesn’t identify makes this statement:

We were doing something we were nervous about. Our lifes would be ruined.

He actually stresses the word lifes, so the error stands out even more.

It is an error because the word life has an irregular plural form: the plural form of life is lives.

For some words ending with either an F or an FE, you make them plural by replacing that with VES.

  • The plural of leaf is leaves.
  • The plural of knife is knives.

This rule also applies to the words half, loaf, shelf, thief, wife and wolf.

But some words ending in either F or FE don’t take the irregular form.

  • The plural of sheriff is sheriffs.
  • The plural of giraffe is giraffes.

And one more twist: You can make these words plural by adding an S or by replacing the F with VES:

  • Dwarf
  • Handkerchief
  • Hoof
  • Scarf
  • Wharf

Sometimes, a quality spellcheck program is your best bet to help avoid blunders!

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1 Comment

  1. One thing that gets me is that many people are not happy enough to, correctly, make the word “housewife” plural by changing “fe” to “ves.” They go on to also pronounce the “s” in “house” to the same “z” sound that the “ves” dictates, when spoken. To me, it sounds as though they are speaking of providing shelter for wives. 🙂

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.