Live in, live on, and live off
I have a friend who lives in San Francisco, a friend who lives on an island, and a friend who lives on a boat. I had a friend who lived on coffee and beer too. I haven’t seen him for many years. I hope he is doing okay, but too much coffee and too much beer are not a winning combination.
I am writing this now, responding to a virtual friend who asked about live always taking the preposition in.
I remember when I was in elementary school, or perhaps middle school, and my English teacher told me that every rule has an exception or two or three or more. Actually, she only said that every rule has an exception, but many rules have more than one exception!
Live always taking the preposition in is one such rule. It is true that we usually live in a place, but we live on boats and islands.
What about living off coffee and beer? Imagine what that would do to your insides… (Yes, you can live off coffee and beer or you can live on coffee and beer.) That does not mean that you live on top of them. It means that they are what keep you going.
If you really love coffee, you could also live for coffee. That means that coffee is your reason for living! People do say that. They may not really mean it, but they do say it! Starbucks hopes they mean it…
So, I live in San Francisco means that I live there.
I live off San Francisco would mean that the city supports me, perhaps with money. This is not a very pleasant implication though. It sounds rather dishonest. Maybe I steal from tourists for my living?
I live on San Francisco might mean that San Francisco gives me my energy and keeps me going.
I live for San Francisco means that it is what I truly want and desire.
Please understand, in closing, that these examples are not perfect. They do not have context. Language needs context. They could mean as stated above, but in another context they could mean something different.
Here are some more examples:
I live in California.
My friend lives on a boat.
Farmers used to live off the land.
When we are university students, we live off our parents.
Sometimes we live in apartments or dormitories.
I lived in the countryside for two months.
When I lived in the countryside, I lived for swimming.
In the winter, I lived in the mountains. Then, I lived for snowboarding.
Now, it’s time to stop and have a cup of tea. After all, I live off tea.