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Related to subsistence: subsistence allowance, Subsistence theory of wages


1. The act or state of subsisting.
2. A means of subsisting, especially means barely sufficient to maintain life.
3. Something that has real or substantial existence.
4. Christianity Hypostasis.

sub·sis′tent adj.


1. the means by which one maintains life
2. the act or condition of subsisting
3. a thing that has real existence
4. the state of being inherent
5. (Philosophy) philosophy an inferior mode of being ascribed to the references of general terms which do not in fact exist. See also nonbeing


(səbˈsɪs təns)

1. the state or fact of subsisting or existing.
2. the providing of sustenance or support.
3. means of supporting life; a living or livelihood.
4. the source from which food and other items necessary to exist are obtained.
[1400–50; late Middle English < Late Latin subsistentia; see subsist, -ence]



(See also POVERTY.)

boil the pot To make a bare subsistence living. This self-evident expression appeared in William Combe’s The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1812):

No fav’ring patrons have I got,
But just enough to boil the pot.

See also potboiler, LETTERS.

keep body and soul together To survive economically; to make enough money to take care of basic needs and thus stay alive, death being viewed as the separation of soul and body. This picturesque expression dates from the mid-18th century.

By never letting him see you swallow half enough to keep body and soul together. (Jane Collier, The Art of Tormenting, 1753)

keep one’s head above water To barely manage to keep out of debt; to remain financially solvent, however slightly. The allusion is to a swimmer too tired to go on who treads water to keep from going under altogether. The expression has been in figurative use since the early 18th century.

Farmer Dobson, were I to marry him, has promised to keep our heads above water. (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Promise of May, 1882)

keep the wolf from the door To ward off starvation; to prevent want and necessity from becoming all-consuming; to struggle to provide the basic necessities. The rapacious wolf has long been a symbol of a devouring force, such as poverty, which deprives an individual of the basic necessities. Recorded use of this expression dates from the middle of the 15th century.

Endowe hym now, with noble sapience
By whiche he may the wolf werre frome the gate.
(John Hardyng, Chronicle, 1457)

make both ends meet To live within one’s means, to pay one’s expenses, to stay in the black financially. A longer version of the phrase is to make the two ends of the year meet, i.e., to live within one’s means from January to December. The expressions carry the connotation of struggle and mere subsistence living. The French equivalent expressions are joindre les deux bouts and joindre les deux bouts de l’an. Use of the phrase dates from the latter half of the 17th century.

Her mother has to contrive to make both ends meet. (The Graphic, August, 1884)

make buckle and tongue meet To make both ends meet; to earn enough money or produce enough food to survive; to get by, to manage. This puzzling colloquial Americanism was in print by the mid-19th century. The image is confusing. It may derive from either belts or shoes, but neither possibility casts much light on its relevance to financial survival.

All they cared for was “to make buckle and tongue meet” by raising stock, … and a little corn for bread. (Fisher’s River, 1859)

An even earlier British equivalent is hold or bring buckle and thong together.

My benefice doth bring me in no more
But what will hold bare buckle and thong together.
(Weakest Goeth to the Wall, 1600)

tighten one’s belt To implement austere measures during a time of financial uncertainty; to endure hunger with fortitude. This expression alludes to the weight loss and subsequent reduction in waist size of an underfed person. The phrase enjoys common use in the United States and Great Britain.

A travelling troupe who quoted Corneille while tightening their belts. (Observer, April, 1927)

ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.subsistence - minimal (or marginal) resources for subsistingsubsistence - minimal (or marginal) resources for subsisting; "social security provided only a bare subsistence"
bread and butter, keep, livelihood, sustenance, living, support - the financial means whereby one lives; "each child was expected to pay for their keep"; "he applied to the state for support"; "he could no longer earn his own livelihood"
2.subsistence - a means of surviving; "farming is a hard means of subsistence"
survival, endurance - a state of surviving; remaining alive
3.subsistence - the state of existing in reality; having substance
being, beingness, existence - the state or fact of existing; "a point of view gradually coming into being"; "laws in existence for centuries"


noun living, maintenance, upkeep, keep, support, board, existence, survival, livelihood, board and lodging Up to £350,000 has been spent on travel and subsistence.




A. N (= nourishment) → sustento m, subsistencia f; (= existence) → existencia f
means of subsistencemedios mpl de subsistencia
B. CPD subsistence allowance Ndietas fpl
subsistence economy Neconomía f de subsistencia
subsistence farmer N campesino que se dedica a la agricultura de subsistencia
subsistence farming Nagricultura f de subsistencia
subsistence level Nnivel m mínimo de subsistencia
to live at subsistence levelvivir muy justo, poderse sustentar apenas
subsistence wage Nsalario m de subsistencia


[səbˈsɪstəns] nsubsistance fsubsistence allowance nallocation f de subsistancesubsistence level nminimum m vital
at subsistence level → avec le minimum vital


n (= living)Leben nt(on von); (= means of subsistence)Existenz f, → (Lebens)unterhalt m; subsistence on £11 is impossiblees ist unmöglich, von £ 11 zu leben; rice is their chief means of subsistencesie ernähren sich hauptsächlich von Reis


subsistence allowance
nUnterhaltszuschuss m
subsistence farmer
nBauer, der nur für den Eigenbedarf anbaut
subsistence farming
nAckerbau mfür den Eigenbedarf, Subsistenzwirtschaft f
subsistence level
nExistenzminimum nt; at subsistenceauf dem Existenzminimum
subsistence wage
nMinimallohn m


[səbˈsɪstns] nsopravvivenza
means of subsistence → mezzi mpl di sussistenza
References in classic literature ?
The scout now told the sisters to dismount; and taking the bridles from the mouths, and the saddles off the backs of the jaded beasts, he turned them loose, to glean a scanty subsistence among the shrubs and meager herbage of that elevated region.
This mighty contrast thrust itself forward as a fair expression of the odds against which she was to begin her struggle for a subsistence.
Oftentimes they were asleep, but occasionally might be heard talking together, ill voices between a speech and a snore, and with that lack of energy that distinguishes the occupants of alms-houses, and all other human beings who depend for subsistence on charity, on monopolized labour, or anything else but their own independent exertions.
Meanwhile, in the night, when everybody else was asleep, Cassy slowly and carefully accumulated there a stock of provisions sufficient to afford subsistence for some time; she transferred, article by article, a greater part of her own and Emmeline's wardrobe.
I derive more of my subsistence from the swamps which surround my native town than from the cultivated gardens in the village.
Content to work from sunrise to sunset to gain a mere subsistence for her children, she lived in their future, not in her own present, as a mother is wont to do when her own lot seems hard and cheerless.
To provide for her otherwise was out of Colonel Campbell's power; for though his income, by pay and appointments, was handsome, his fortune was moderate and must be all his daughter's; but, by giving her an education, he hoped to be supplying the means of respectable subsistence hereafter.
I explained with tolerable firmness, that I really did not know where my means of subsistence were to come from, unless I could earn them for myself.
So they found themselves with gaping stomachs, shivering limbs,, and hungry wives and children, in a place called their own country, in which, nevertheless, every scrap of ground and possible source of subsistence was tightly locked up in the hands of others and guarded by armed soldiers and policemen.
Before they set forward, they advertise the governors of provinces through which they are to pass, that they may take care to furnish what is necessary for the subsistence of the troops.
Their cultivated fields; their constructed habitations; a space of ample sufficiency for their subsistence, and whatever they had annexed to themselves by personal labor, was undoubtedly, by the laws of nature, theirs.
In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will.