How to Pronounce 'Short-Lived'

Is the last part of "short-lived" related to "live" (the verb) or "life" (the noun), and does it even matter?

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
The Quick And Dirty

"Short-lived" has two acceptable pronunciations.

 Here's a listener question about how to pronounce "short-lived":

"Hi, Grammar Girl. This is Brad in Lake Bluff, Illinois, calling. Enjoy your program, your podcast. Been listing to it for a long time. I've been wondering about asking you a question, and I was finally prompted by two of your recent episodes. One was the one on correcting people's mispronunciation and the other one was on 'deja vu,' and in that episode on 'deja vu,' you used the term that you pronounced as short-lived ["-livd"], and I'm asking if perhaps it should be pronounced short-lived ["-lahyvd"] because the term describes the length of life, and I would compare it to words like 'half' which changes to 'halved,'  'knife' changes 'knifed,' and 'roof' changes to 'roofed,' all of which when the F changes to a V [sound], retain the original vowel sound without a change there. Be interesting to hear what you think about that on your show. Thanks very much."

Thanks, Brad. Great question!

How to pronounce 'short-lived'

Dictionaries are a mixed bag on the word. Merriam-Webster online and dictionary.com both list both pronunciations. Merriam-Webster lists "short-lived" ["-lahyvd"] first, but Dictionary.com lists "short-lived" ["-lahyvd"] first. Collins Dictionary, a British dictionary, lists "short-lived" ["-livd"] as the British pronunciation and "short-lived" ["-lahyvd"] as the American pronunciation. But the Oxford English Dictionary, also a British dictionary, lists only the "short-lived" ["-lahyvd"] pronunciation—so the opposite, saying "short-lived" ["-lahyvd"] is the British pronunciation. So … I don't know!

One thing that does seem clear by searching YouGlish, a site where you can watch snippets of YouTube videos that use specific words, is that "short-lived" ["-livd"] is much more common there. The first 10 videos I watched all used it.

The etymology of 'short-lived'

Regarding etymology, two sources I trust seem to disagree. Etymonline calls the last part the past tense of the verb "live"—"lived," ["-livd"] which would also argue for the "short-lived" ["-livd"] pronunciation, but the Oxford English Dictionary seems to say it comes from the noun "life" but then that people "often apprehend it" as coming from the verb "live." So even the origin isn't clear, which means the etymology can't help us figure out the best way to pronounce it either. Even if we wanted to follow the same pattern as "halved" and "knifed," and keep the vowel sound the same, we don't seem to know for sure whether we're supposed to follow "live" or "life." Plus, English breaks patterns all the time, so just because those words keep their vowel sound doesn't mean this word would need to.

At this point, I've listened to the two pronunciations so many times, I can't even remember which pronunciation I used anymore, but I think I'll use "short-lived" ["-livd"] in the future.  

How to pronounce 'roofed'

Finally, regarding those other words, "roof" is especially interesting because the past tense can be pronounced either "roofed" or "rooved," and in fact, the Oxford English Dictionary says the past particle is on rare occasions spelled with a V instead of an F. So "roofed" is a little like "short-lived" and "short-lived" — they both have multiple possible pronunciations. Thanks for the question.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.