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[suh b-sist] /səbˈsɪst/
verb (used without object)
to exist; continue in existence.
to remain alive; live, as on food, resources, etc.
to have existence in, or by reason of, something.
to reside, lie, or consist (usually followed by in).
  1. to have timeless or abstract existence, as a number, relation, etc.
  2. to have existence, especially independent existence.
verb (used with object)
to provide sustenance or support for; maintain.
Origin of subsist
1540-50; < Latin subsistere to remain, equivalent to sub- sub- + sistere to stand, make stand; see stand
Related forms
subsistingly, adverb
presubsist, verb (used without object)
self-subsisting, adjective
supersubsist, verb (used without object)
Can be confused
subside, subsist. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for subsist
  • These adjuncts, despite their limited hours, make enough to subsist on while writing that book or building up that cv.
  • It's fascinating to think a spider might be able to subsist on plant material.
  • Most of the resulting corn is fed to livestock who didn't evolve to subsist entirely on corn.
  • They proposed to live in the open air, and subsist upon potatoes to be dug with the shovel.
  • With such a level of income one could barely subsist.
  • Chimpanzees generally subsist on fruits, but they will hunt on occasion.
  • Let's see you subsist on nothing but beer, light or not, and stay sober.
  • If it was too wet to light a fire, they had to subsist on hardtack biscuits and cold sowbelly doused in vinegar.
  • These archetypal eerie animals are the only mammals that subsist solely on blood.
  • These farmers barely subsist on crowded and overworked land.
British Dictionary definitions for subsist


verb (mainly intransitive)
(often foll by on) to be sustained; manage to live: to subsist on milk
to continue in existence
(foll by in) to lie or reside by virtue (of); consist
  1. to exist as a concept or relation rather than a fact
  2. to be conceivable
(transitive) (obsolete) to provide with support
Derived Forms
subsistent, adjective
subsister, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Latin subsistere to stand firm, from sub- up + sistere to make a stand
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for subsist

1540s, "to exist," from Latin subsistere "to stand still or firm," (see subsistence). Meaning "to support oneself" (in a certain way) is from 1640s. Related: Subsisted; subsisting.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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