Question 1

Why is it notre vie but not nos vies? Does notre vie imply that we are living together or cooperating, while nos vies imply that we have separate lives?

Question 2

Consider the sentences Il se brosse les dents and Il a mal à l'estomac. Here we do not say ses dents or son estomac as it is redundant. Then why do we say notre vie but not la vie?

  • Vie isn't a body part. For the use of the possessive adjective please read french.stackexchange.com/q/43421/358 and french.stackexchange.com/q/43563/358.
    – None
    Aug 15, 2021 at 17:42
  • @None Thank you for the SE links. They are quite helpful. According to the both links the natural tendency is to use possessive pronouns with body parts, but the children are forced not to use it that way as it results in redundancy. The thing is, I cannot see the difference between a body part and vie when it comes to using possessive pronouns with them redundantly.
    – Xfce4
    Aug 15, 2021 at 19:13
  • @None 1- I edited the question and corrected 'à vie' as 'la vie'. 2- Can you provide sample contexts?
    – Xfce4
    Aug 15, 2021 at 19:16
  • I suppose you mean sample contexts for gagner nos vies/notre vie ? I've deleted my comment since you correct la vie. As for your comment - I know it sounds silly to say that but I can't do better - la vie not being a body part we use the possessive adjective. Another thing I could say is that's the way we say it in French. Using the definite article would not make sense to to a French person.
    – None
    Aug 15, 2021 at 19:29
  • Ok, so: gagner sa vie can be viewed as invariable. I was thinking in Spanish. ganarse la vida.
    – Lambie
    Aug 15, 2021 at 22:58

3 Answers 3


Whether you say nous gagnons bien nos vies or nous gagnons bien notre vie is often context dependent, not always.

Nous sommes six associés, une quinzaine de salariés. La demande est forte, nous gagnons bien notre vie. An interview

Plural. Six different people living separate lives but each earning their living as associates in the same firm.

Lorsque nous travaillons, il est vrai que nous gagnons bien nos vies. A printed pamphlet.

A group of people each one of them earning a separate living.

Nous travaillons tous les 2 et nous gagnons bien notre vie.
A forum.

Singular. A couple with two separate incomes. But plural would be just as acceptable.

Nous gagnons bien nos vies et nous n'aurions aucun problème à lui venir en aide. A forum.

A couple, the plural implies they both earn a living but it can't be for certain.

.. nous gagnons bien notre vie Article printed in a magazine.

A couple working together, a common source of income. I would not expect the plural here.

Ce genre de bien coûte une petite fortune, et Hugo se réjouit déjà du pourcentage qu'il va empocher. Nous gagnons bien nos vies, en particulier Hugo. (excerpt from a novel)

Plural, and no choice here because of the precisions given on the partner's income.

Pour ce qui est du paiement, comme l'a dit Éloïse, nous gagnons bien nos vies, et nous souhaitons assumer nous-mêmes les frais de notre mariage. Excerpt from a novel

Plural but singular possible here.

  • Thanks a lot for your effort. How did you come up with so many examples that fast?
    – Xfce4
    Aug 15, 2021 at 19:32

Here is an answer to the first question only; the second one has been treated already in several preceding questions (see the linked questions).

In fact "gagnons bien nos vies" is not used at all in print: ngram. It does not mean that nobody will ever use it in their speech; occasionally someone might say that because the context implies that several livings are concerned. We have a similar situation in English; mostly, English speaking people choose to say "we earn our living", but a few say "our livings": ngram. It just happens that the French feel somewhat more strongly that "vie" should be in the singular, or possibly that they have acquired a stronger habit somehow. It's nothing more than an idiomatic particularity. I must say that to my ear "nous gagnons bien nos vies" does not sound usual; however it doesn't sound illogical.
Here "vie" has to be taken as "means of livelihood" (living); nevertheless there is no implication of collaboration: what is meant is "chacun d'entre nous gagne bien sa vie".


On Question 1, this reflects the fact in situations where English has what is called a "distributive plural", French has a tendency to use the singular.

For example,

  • Ils ont tous enlevé leur chapeau

corresponds to

  • They all took off their hats.

In this case, each person has one hat. Considering the totality of hats would suggest the plural, whereas considering what each person has suggests the singular.

Even in English, there is a degree of variation, and one of the cases where you have a greater likelihood of finding a distributive singular is in idioms. In English, you'd never say "They can't put their fingers on what's wrong." The idiom is "to put one's finger on something," and this outweighs the fact that "they" collectively have many fingers. Of course, gagner sa vie is an idiom, which makes it even less likely to appear with a distributive plural in French.

With all of this being said, you do find the distributive plural in French. You can say

  • J'ai regardé leurs ventres/leur ventre.

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