I have trouble with making a general statement.For example this sentence:

People often make a lot of mistakes in (their live)/( their lives).

In my opinion

  1. If I use (their life) - singular form. This sentence can be understood like this:

    People often make a lot of mistakes in each person's life

  2. If I use (their lives) - plural form. This sentence can be understood like this:

    People often make a lot of mistakes in people's lives.

According to what native speakers advise me for these kinds of general statements. Both form (life)/(lives) are correct. I am not sure if this advice are applicable for this case. Please help me .

Thank you.

  • 1
    'Live' isn't the singular of 'lives'… it's 'life'. Sep 11, 2022 at 7:21
  • 1
    I see that you were advised to ask this as a new question. As far as I'm concerned, the same applies to this as to the other sentences you have asked about - you can use either singular or plural (except that the singular is life, not live). Sep 11, 2022 at 7:22
  • 1
    @gonefishin'again. I am sorry for my mistake. I just edited my post
    – LE HANH
    Sep 11, 2022 at 7:29
  • 1
    I agree with Weather Vane's answer. We know that each person has one life, so there is no ambiguity. Sep 11, 2022 at 7:35
  • 1
    The plural is acceptable, as you were told in answer to your earlier questions. Sep 11, 2022 at 8:35

3 Answers 3


"Lives" should be plural. Unless the people all share one life -- some kind of science fiction scenario -- they have many lives, so the word should be plural.

Yes, you mean that each person makes mistakes in his own life. Each person has one life. You certainly could rephrase the sentence to refer to each person's life. Well, like I just did there: "Each person makes mistakes in his own life", for example. But when you say "People make mistakes in their lives", there are many lives involved -- presumably one per person -- so you need to use the plural.

  • This means when using the subject “ people “, only plural form is correct to use for this sentence . Right? I posted a similar post with a similar sentence. A native speaker advised that both form (singular- and plural form) can be used for these kind of general statements. I am so confused. Here is the link ell.stackexchange.com/questions/322570/…
    – LE HANH
    Sep 11, 2022 at 2:53
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    @LEHANH Well, I disagree with the other poster there. It is probably true that many fluent speakers would shift from plural to singular here because they are thinking of "each person", but I believe this is a mistake. A common mistake, but a mistake nevertheless.
    – Jay
    Sep 13, 2022 at 0:03

The sentence has unnecessary repetiton. You can say one of these:

People often make mistakes.
People make a lot of mistakes.

If you intended to use both 'often' and 'a lot' perhaps you mean:

Many people make a lot of mistakes.

Also, you should use a pronoun instead of repeating the subject:

People make mistakes in their life.

Use the singular, because each person has one life, and they make mistakes in their own life, not in others'.

  • As the answer above, Jay recommended to use plural form. but you recommended to use singular form. This means both form are correct. Right?
    – LE HANH
    Sep 11, 2022 at 4:05
  • -1 I believe the singular is incorrect here. I am sure it is less commonly used. Sep 11, 2022 at 13:12
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    @DavidSiegel then let your answer stand by itself. It is both arrogant and disrespectful to post an answer, and downvote other answers. Sep 11, 2022 at 16:55

The question gives the example sentences:

(1) People often make a lot of mistakes in their live. (2) People often make a lot of mistakes in their lives.

Sentence (1) is clearly incorrect in that the singular of "lives" is "life", not "live". The word "live" is the base form of the verb "to live". The word can also be an adjective or adverb, but not a noun. See Merriam-Webste. So let us correct (1) to:

(1A) People often make a lot of mistakes in their life.

In my view (1A) is also incorrect, or at least unnatural. As this Google Ngram shows, the plural form of this construction is far more common, at least in the Google corpus.

Beyond Google, I feel that (1A) would imply a single shared life for all the people under discussion. That is, of course not the case. And while a listener or reader would know that is not the case, I think the form would strike most fluent speakrs as wrong, or at least odd and unusual. It would break the flow, and distract from the author's point. Form (2), on the other hand, is natural, and would not draw special attention. This is part of a more general situation in which ther is a group noun followed by a related countable noun. In most cases the countable noun is typically used in the plural form, but in some cases the singular has become customary in English. Some examples:

  • Most customers will draw on their accounts.
  • Most machines have off switches,
  • Most machines have an off switch.
  • Most employees spend several hours a day at their jobs.
  • Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall.
  • Balkan countries have been noted for their wars.
  • Programmers stereotypically drink cola and other caffeinated beverages.
  • A troop is only as good as its riders.
  • An organization depends on its members.
  • Many police wear uniforms.
  • Many police wear a uniform.

There is no clear rule that applies to each such case. Usage varies by the noun involved

  • When a subject of a general statement is “people “ in general, or a small undefined group of people have the same characteristics, sometimes “their” means each person, sometimes “their” means people. For English learners like me, when I can use their+ singular, or their+ plural. No rules here. Right? It just depends on the feelings of speakers. It is right when a speaker feel right?
    – LE HANH
    Sep 11, 2022 at 14:50
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    I don't understand how these singular/plural examples are supposed to be a definite answer. Yet you have dismissed my answer as wrong.. Sep 11, 2022 at 20:43
  • @Weather Vane I find your answer incorrect because it doesn't match usage/ Both my experience and google Ngrams find the plural far more common, but you say the singular is the only proper answer. Thew logic that the singular is used because each person has only one life in my view does not follow. The point of my answer is that there is no single rule. The examples demonstrate that in some (many) cases the plural is preferred, in some either can be used, and in some the singular is preferred. Sep 11, 2022 at 21:14

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