5

"spare" means "to allow somebody/something to escape harm, damage or death, especially when others do not escape it"

Say, a king sentenced a prisoner to be hanged.

Can the prisoner say "Please spare my life" when he was the only one involved, noone else involved?

or

Can the prisoner say "Please spare my life" only when there were many people involved and he wanted the King not to kill him?

1
  • An individual might say "spare my life" to the king, but he'd be requesting only his own life be preserved. If the individual is addressing MULTIPLE people, ALL OF WHOM he is asking to spare him, the syntax would remain the same. That is, if one man was begging the king and all his court, or the king and the executioner, it would be entirely correct for him to say, "please spare my life," and expect it to address to all who heard him ask (though still for him alone). I know this wasn't your question, but I wanted to include an example for you in which the statement COULD be applied to a group.
    – NerdyDeeds
    Dec 27, 2022 at 7:45

6 Answers 6

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The question seems to focus on "especially when others do not escape it". If I understand the context, the question is whether "spare" applies only when others are involved. The answer to that is no.

"Especially when others do not escape it" doesn't necessarily refer to "at the same time". The meaning of that phrase is "ordinarily in the same situation" (when the king sentences someone to be hanged, they ordinarily do get hanged). The phrase doesn't imply (or preclude), that anyone else is subject to the same fate concurrently.

5

You can say:

Please spare our lives.

It is the fact your example uses the singular 'life' that means only one life, not the verb to spare.

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  • Say, the King captured only 4 people and wanted to hang all of them. One of them can say "Please spare our lives" right?. If that is the case, then "spare our lives" and "don't kill us" are almost the same.
    – Tom
    Dec 26, 2022 at 11:30
  • Yes. The singular options would be "don't kill me" or "spare my life". The plural options would be "don't kill us" or "spare our lives".
    – Astralbee
    Dec 26, 2022 at 11:33
  • I thought "spare my life" was a bit different from "don't kill me".
    – Tom
    Dec 26, 2022 at 11:39
  • 2
    @Tom - 'spare my life' can mean 'don't kill me (yourself, personally)', or 'don't order that I am to be killed (by someone else, e.g. an executioner)'. Dec 26, 2022 at 12:37
2

Saying:

Please spare my life.

Is perfectly fine to use in this consequence.

If you want to express us in plural like in:

Please do not kill us

Say:

Please spare our lives.

1

I believe the OP's confusion stems from the usage of the determiner "my".

There are five people imprisoned with me, we have all committed the same crime, and we are all condemned to death.

If I supplicate Spare my life! I am asking only for my own life to be saved, and for no one else's. BUT if I plead "Spare our life"–which is grammatical– I am asking that all five lives be saved. It could have been uttered in the past, maybe in the 19th century, but today the plural form Spare our lives would be far more likely.

In English, we sometimes use the singular in situations even when the meaning is clearly plural.

  • Simply waiting for the sensation of thirst is not a good enough sign of a need to drink – by the time we feel thirsty our body is already dehydrated and…

  • At that time, our life was filled with hope; we thought that from that point on, all our sins would be under our feet. We thought that, henceforth, we could overcome everything.

In this instance, the author refers to our life as the common denominator, the experience that was shared by a specific group of people.

The expressions "our life" and "our soul" are typically found in biblical and religious settings, as seen in the quote and link above, "our life" is but a variant of this usage.

0

It seems you are (rightly) understanding the meaning of "spare" as: setting aside a part of a larger ensemble.

Several examples in the definition you linked would work with that meaning:

"You should spare a thought for Bob" => out of all your thoughts, keep one aside specifically for Bob.

"Surely you can spare me a few minutes?" => once again, out of all the minutes you have available, please dedicate a few for me.

"Could you spare one of your staff to help us out?" => Well, I'm sure you get the meaning by now. You couldn't ask someone to spare some staff if he was the sole worker in his business and has no staff at all.


So in your case of a prisoner asking "Please spare my life", you are thinking that this should be taken literally and would only be correct if the complete request was:

"Please spare my life (among this group of other people also destined to loose theirs at the same time than me)"

But even if taken literally, the extension I just added to your sentence above was arbitrary. You could just as easily think of:

"Please spare my life (among all the other prisoners ever convicted for the same crime before)"

"to spare" in that case retains the meaning of separating something from a larger ensemble, it's just that all the elements of the ensemble/group don't need to co-exists at the same time.


So to finally answer your question in title: YES, "spare my life" only refers to you.

Many other answers already explained how to express it if you wanted to refer to more than yourself so I won't repeat that part.

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In the wording of the Question alone, yes, "spare my life" does necessarily mean just one person is involved. Otherwise, you would need "spare our lives." In some cases "spare their lives" might be appropriate, but that would suggest the speaker was trying to save only the others and not himself.

However, the exposition seems to ignore that by adding "especially when others do not…" How that could be is not clear to me, for one.

The prisoner not only can, but must use "… spare my life" when he is the only one involved.

Beyond that point, the Question leaps outside the scope of English Language Learners…

The next example in the exposition won't work until it's explained why and how the word 'only' is included: 'Can the prisoner say "… spare my life" only when…'

No. Nothing could stop him speaking 'only when (anything)…'

He could say '… spare my life only' when he cared nothing for any other people. The different punctuation of 'only' changes what might be a typing error, into a clear example.

He could say '… spare my life' in the hope the King would see his as a test case and spare others as well… but that's about literature, not the basics of the language.

By the way, the meaning doesn't change the fact that grammar insists 'Can the prisoner speak only when there were (anything)' cannot be correct, because the tenses used in all clauses or phrases of every sentence must match.

You need either 'Can he speak… if/when there are…' or 'Could he speak… if/when there were…'

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