This is the headline.

Teenager Sentenced to 14 Years to Life in Tessa Majors Murder

Why is the preposition to used in this case? I wonder if years of life would convey the same meaning.

  • 4
    See definition 5d of "life" and 3b of "to". Jan 20, 2022 at 14:22
  • 22
    14 years of life just means 14 years. 14 years to life is a range.
    – stangdon
    Jan 20, 2022 at 14:31
  • 3
    I find this phrasing very misleading. "14 Years to Life" doesn't emphasise "life" enough. The teenager got a life sentence (and, then, after 14 years, the possibility of parole) Jan 20, 2022 at 15:37
  • 2
    "so time in prision indicate consequeces to life" your thinking is not illogical, but it is not what this phrase means @all.
    – JimmyJames
    Jan 20, 2022 at 21:40
  • 4
    @henrykearaudjo Native speakers would not say either "what do you get to life abroad" or "do something good of your life". I can't think of an example where you can use "of" and "to" in the way you describe. The closest way to naturally express what you seem to be trying to say with the former would be "what [consequences to life] does living abroad get you" (it is grammatical to add "consequences to life", but it's a bit too verbose to sound natural). The idiomatic phrase for your second example is "do something good with your life". That is to say, use your life to do something good
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 21, 2022 at 0:08

3 Answers 3


Because it isn’t “years of [her] life,” describing where the years are coming from—that’s implicit.

Instead, it’s a range: from a minimum of 14 years, to a maximum of “life,” that is, until the convict dies. The exact sentence may not have been decided yet (but will fall within that range, i.e. it will not be 3 years, and it won’t be 3 lifetimes), or perhaps the sentence is for life, but with opportunities for early release (known as parole) after at least 14 years.

In English, numerical ranges are generally read as “start to end,” where the start and end are the beginning and end of the range, respectively. For instance, “6-8 weeks,” spoken as “six to eight weeks,” refers to an amount of time that will be at least 6 weeks, but not more than 8 weeks (taken literally, anyway, but see here for idiomatic usage).

In the case of “14 years to life,” the start and end are not in the same units of measure: we have 14 years on one end of the range, but (implicitly 1) “life” on the other. But again, this is no different from saying, perhaps, “six months to a year,” referring to a duration between six months (half a year) and a year (twelve months).

Finally, it’s worth noting that the sentence “25 years to life,” often just “25 to life,” is the sentence for 1st-degree murder in the United States, at least on TV (e.g. Law & Order). As a result, “25 to life” has become slang for murder, or for being treated like a murderer (i.e. a criminal of the highest order). Eminem has a song and album with this title, there’s a video game, etc. etc. A statement like “I got 25 to life for that” might be used to say (in a context where discussing some relatively minor infraction) that the punishment for one’s actions are outrageously harsh, as harsh as they’d be for the much more serious crime of premeditated murder. May also be used in place of killing or murder any time those would be used as slang or hyperbole, e.g. “I’m gonna get 25 to life” might mean the same as “I’m gonna kill somebody.” (In most contexts such a statement would not be taken seriously, it is merely an expression of extreme frustration, displeasure, or anger.)

  • 16
    "The start and end are not in the same units of measure" - I agree with your conclusion but might go even further. 14 years and life are both spans of time, but ranges are even more flexible than this. You could reasonably say, "The sentences range from a slap on the wrist to life in prison." As long as there's some way to compare items, they can appear in a range.
    – Juhasz
    Jan 21, 2022 at 0:56
  • 7
    Interestingly, it is not uncommon to hear of people being given multiple consecutive life sentences for particularly serious crimes. This is done to ensure that even if they do manage to somehow get a reduction or commutation of part of their sentence, they are still likely to be imprisoned until death. Jan 21, 2022 at 15:40
  • 3
    @DarrelHoffman I believe those cases are solely for convictions for multiple crimes, though. I don’t think any one crime carries a sentence beyond life.
    – KRyan
    Jan 21, 2022 at 15:52
  • to be sentenced to some number of years.
    – Lambie
    Jan 21, 2022 at 19:06
  • 4
    Minor - "is the sentence for 1st-degree murder in the United States, at least on TV" - sentence guidelines varies from state to state AFAIK. 25 to life is in California where Hollywood is (so most of the films take place). Jan 21, 2022 at 20:59

It's the expression they use in courts. Consider:

A parole proceeding is a hearing to determine whether an offender is suitable for release to parole supervision.
An example of a life sentence with the possibility of parole is when an offender is sentenced to serve a term of “15 years to life.” (source)

Basically, that means that after that particular number of years, the offender has the right to ask for a parole. The offender has a life sentence, but after 14 years in the case you speak about, that offender is allowed to ask the court to consider an earlier release.

Wikipedia restricts this use to the USA and explains:

The laws in the United States categorize life sentences as "determinate life sentences" or "indeterminate life sentences," the latter indicating the possibility of an abridged sentence, usually through the process of parole. For example, sentences of "15 years to life," "25 years to life," or "life with mercy" are called "indeterminate life sentences", while a sentence of "life without the possibility of parole" or "life without mercy" is called a "determinate life sentence".

  • 1
    American speaker here--I've never heard the mercy version before. Jan 23, 2022 at 4:54
  • @LorenPechtel Well, maybe you can look into it and find out why Wikipedia says so...
    – fev
    Jan 23, 2022 at 13:04
  • @fev, I find convincing support outside Wikipedia for "life without mercy" and "life with mercy" sentences, including in current use, but I had never before heard those terms either. My best guess, then, is that that wording is specific to certain states, and probably fairly few of them. I am much more familiar with "life" (the possibility of parole / mercy being implicit) and "life without [the possibility of] parole" as the wording for the two kinds of life sentences. Jan 23, 2022 at 17:39
  • @JohnBollinger I am not a native speaker so it is probably irrelevant to say that I have never heard this expression either. But I was not surprised that such an expression exists, because I have heard the word "mercy" used in statements like "deserves no mercy" in documentaries about trials and courts.
    – fev
    Jan 23, 2022 at 19:50

Teenager Sentenced to 14 Years to Life [in prison] in Tessa Majors Murder

Headlines are short and use small grammar. However, when talking about prison, shortened phrases like "to 20 months" and "to life" (in prison/jail) are very common in general.

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