There are quite similar examples of "bring something to life" and "bring life to something"

Is there any difference among them?

Example 1 from Collins dictionary

This technique brings life to instruction and eases assimilation of knowledge.

Example 2 also from Collins dictionary

The cold, hard cruelty of two young men is vividly brought to life in this true story.

Example 3 from Oxford dictionary

The new teacher really brought French to life for us.

  • 3
    Please stop using abbreviations in your questions. They are not universal and not everyone knows what they mean. There is hardly any more effort involved in typing "something" than "STH". They are never used by native English speakers. Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 13:50
  • @PeterJennings Feel free to edit the question
    – gotube
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 15:44
  • 1
    Downvoters: Why do you think this could be answered with a dictionary check?
    – gotube
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 15:47
  • I think the first Collins cite is clumsy, and shouldn't be used or taken as an example of "natural use of English". It's not even citing a credible source - accoring to Google Books, the only instance of that text is in publications from Collins. Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 19:32
  • 1
    @PeterJennings I apologise for using abbreviation. I just get home and notice that was a serious issue. I didn't mean any offence. Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 5:32

2 Answers 2


I would say that we use "bring life to something" when that something is primarily in the realm of ideas, totally dependent on humans to apply it to our lives. That something is inherently dead.

  • In Example 1, instruction is inherently lifeless, a bunch of words, totally dependent on humans to make it a part of our lives

But we use "bring something to life" primarily when that something has potential of life, so our role is merely assisting to develop that potential to be realized. Although strictly speaking a story, a language, or a character in a story are inherently dead, they can be in this category too since they mimic something living in our world, if in the sentence we want to highlight their living potential.

  • In Example 2, cruelty is a human potential; the two young men could have manifested their cruelty on their own. "brought to life" here refers to our assistance to manifest that cruelty in our own reality, but our assistance is NOT strictly needed for them to manifest their cruelty somewhere else.

  • In Example 3, French refers to a living language used by many French speakers outside the "French as a second language" classroom. The teacher is merely assisting the students to participate in something already living. Life flows FROM the living usage of French TO the students. Contrast with Latin, a language that has been practically dead for centuries, reduced to the realm of ideas, since there is no more native speaker of that language. "The community brings life to the Latin language by using it as their primary language." highlights the deadness of the Latin language. In this sentence we can substitute Latin with an artificial language like "Klingon". Life flows TO the dead language FROM the community.

  • Other example: "Victor Frankenstein then proceeds to bring to life his monstrous creation." vs. "Victor Frankenstein then proceeds to bring life to his monstrous creation." The former sentence highlights the creation's potential (the sentence implying that Victor resurrected a corpse) but the more powerful second sentence highlights the artificiality of the creation (thought by many to be a patchwork of stitched-together parts of several corpses) thus totally dependent on Victor to infuse it with life.


They are completely different (though there may be circumstances where either could be used).

To bring something to life means to cause it to be alive (in whatever sense that might be meant).

To bring life to something means to bring to it (something with) the quality of life to it. This may result in bringing it to life, but may not.

  • Hawkings's What breathes fire into the equations? can't be inverted, but if he'd asked instead What brings the equations to life?, I don't think it would have made a blind bit of difference if his proofreader had changed that to What brings life to the equations? And contexts where there meaningfully could be a difference are so few and far between there's really no reason to bring that up on a site aimed at learners. Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 19:53

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