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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.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


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
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(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]
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.



(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)

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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"
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


noun living, maintenance, upkeep, keep, support, board, existence, survival, livelihood, board and lodging Up to £350,000 has been spent on travel and subsistence.
Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002


The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


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
Collins Spanish Dictionary - Complete and Unabridged 8th Edition 2005 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1971, 1988 © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2005


[səbˈsɪstəns] nsubsistance fsubsistence allowance nallocation f de subsistancesubsistence level nminimum m vital
at subsistence level → avec le minimum vital
Collins English/French Electronic Resource. © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


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
Collins German Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 7th Edition 2005. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1980 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007


[səbˈsɪstns] nsopravvivenza
means of subsistence → mezzi mpl di sussistenza
Collins Italian Dictionary 1st Edition © HarperCollins Publishers 1995
References in classic literature ?
In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will.
The Hound, feeling much aggrieved at this, reproached his companion, saying, "It is very hard to have all this labor, while you, who do not assist in the chase, luxuriate on the fruits of my exertions." The Housedog replied, "Do not blame me, my friend, but find fault with the master, who has not taught me to labor, but to depend for subsistence on the labor of others."
Since then a subsistence is necessary in every family, the means of procuring it certainly makes up part of the management of a family, for without necessaries it is impossible to live, and to live well.
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.
Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why?
Before, when population pressed against the means of subsistence, the excess population had been swept away by famine.
Indeed, so exhausted were they, that those employed under the saddle were no longer capable of hunting for the daily subsistence of the camp.
The ruling idea of his life appeared to be, that he was bound to show his gratitude to the country which had afforded him an asylum and a means of subsistence by doing his utmost to turn himself into an Englishman.
After some consideration, he went into business as an Informer, in which calling he realises a genteel subsistence. His plan is, to walk out once a week during church time attended by Charlotte in respectable attire.
Many of the menial offices, too, were to be performed by the wife of the porter, according to the bargain, leaving to poor Adrienne, however, all the care of her grandmother, whose room she seldom quitted, the duties of nurse and cook, and the still more important task of finding the means of subsistence.
In abandoning the river, they would have to launch forth upon vast trackless plains destitute of all means of subsistence, where they might perish of hunger and thirst.
The judiciary and the executive members were left dependent on the legislative for their subsistence in office, and some of them for their continuance in it.