I am not a native English speaker, I have a idiom that is difficult to understand.

She's still living off her parents.

I think this sentence means: She lives here alone and her parents live there. (because of 'off'='away')
but in dictionary 'live off' means : to get the money or the things you need from somebody/something
Why does 'live off' means that?

ah, this is one more sentence.

I've been living off rats mostly. (in Harry Potter)

What I think: I hate rats, so I have been living away from rats.
but this means: I have been eating rats.
I'm so confused

This is the original sentence:

Harry pulled open his bag and handed over the bundle of chicken legs and bread. "Thanks," said Sirius, opening it, grabbing a drumstick, sitting down on the cave floor, and tearing off a large chunk with his teeth. " I've been living off rats mostly. Can't steal too much food from Hogsmeade.

  • You might also come across the phrase "live off the land".
    – user230
    Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 19:45
  • I think you can think of this off as away too. I think of this living off as "living by taking something precious or important off someone else (so she can live easily)"; or in the case of rats, I would imagine it as living by taking the rats' lifes away. Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 20:10
  • 1
    @Damkerng: Nah. It's more as StoneyB says, indicative of source. As in "I learned that off the Internet". Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:14
  • 1
    I think that part of it is that "live off" is a phrasal verb, so the literal meaning of "off" on its own isn't super relevant.
    – John Gibb
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 19:14

2 Answers 2


Off here indicates not the location of living but its source.

The idiom arises in the last half of the 18th century in association with the idiom “get one’s living off (of) the land”, meaning one obtains the income which sustained life by farming or by renting the farmlands one owned to others. Armies were likewise said to “live off the land” or “off the country”—meaning that in wartime they obtained what they needed by appropriating it from the territories they crossed rather than being supplied from home.

A similar use of off appears in the phrase dine off (pheasant, the haunch, six or seven courses) meaning one obtains one’dinner from these sources.

So to say that “She lives off her parents” means she obtains the necessities of life from her parents; to say that “I've been living off rats” means I get my nutrition by eating rats.

  • Note I've rephrased and posted a similar question here, in which I propose a Zombie vs. Leech interpretation. @rogermue Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 12:11
  • I don't know how to do the "graph relative frequency of one expression compared to another" thingy in NGrams, but it seems to me dine off has become progressively less common than dine on over the years... Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:28
  • ...whereas the exact opposite has happened lately with live off/on the interest. Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:28

She lives still off her parents.

You understand this "off" in its normal sense of "far/distant off her parents". But that is not the sense. The sentence means: She has no income of her own, her parents have to pay the cost for her living, they support her. In "to live off someone" the use of "off" is a bit special. I would explain the money comes from/off their parents.

Though etymonline does not say it explicitly, "of" and "off" have the same source and can be connected with e.g. Latin ab, which basically means (coming) from somewhere. The semantic development lead to the use of "of" as a genitive marker and similar connections and to the use of "off" for indicating distance from a point or between two points.

In "to live off someone" we still have the original and basic meaning of Latin ab meaning from.

  • rogermue the proper way to give thanks is to simply up-vote the answer that you like. I've seen you do this in multiple places. Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 8:40
  • @CoolHandLouis Have you, really? Or did you mean user4545?
    – rogermue
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 9:16
  • Right you are! user4545 must actually do the upvoting! No harm intended. (On the other hand and as an aside, I was just talking with @J.R. about such subtle meanings of words actually can cause an alternate understanding or confusion, depending on one's perspective!) I really hope this helps to clarifies my thoughts everyone! Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 9:44

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