lit and lighted

I just got a very nice note from Andrew, who asked a good usage question:

Hi! I love reading your answers to the grammar questions. Recently, I got into a debate about ‘lit’ versus ‘lighted’.

I lit a match.
I lighted a candle.

The room was lit by the flame.
The room was lighted by the flame.

Any advice?

Andrew, I do have some advice for you: Use whichever word you like. They’re interchangeable both as past tense verbs and as past participles.

The only difference between the two words is that lit can be used to mean drunk, but lighted can’t.

Extra Credit

Perhaps the most famous use of “lighted” in its adjectival form is in the title of Ernest Hemingway’s short story A Clean Well-Lighted Place.


This entry was posted in usage. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

22 Responses to lit and lighted

  1. aaron says:

    I have a question concerning using a verb after a bare infinitive….I feel the way I have used it is correct, but I don’t know why!! The sentence in question is, “He didn’t finish his homework so he couldn’t go play.” I realize that we could just say,”…he couldn’t play.”, but could we say, “…he couldn’t go to play.” or just simply leave it as is?

  2. yudhvir singh says:

    So it really depends on?

  3. Aaron: Yes, I think it’s fine to write “go play” or “go to play.” “Go play” is an example of an elliptical expression, one that omits certain words for brevity or style without losing meaning.
    Yudhvir: It (using “lighted” or “lit”) really depends on personal preference.

  4. Gary Hamilton says:

    I work for the Canadian Coast Guard. My work deals with aids to navigation. Some aids to navigation are equipped with lights, and some are not.
    If a buoy is equipped with a light, and the light is turned on only at night, is it unlighted or unlit during the day?

  5. Jason says:

    When saying the following phrase: “The peace of the earth,” would you pronounce “the” with a long or short “e?” We have been told that since peace ends with an “e,” it makes the e in the short.

  6. Hi Jason, the general rule is to use the long “e” when the word following “the” begins with a vowel and the short “e” when the following word starts with a consonant. You are correct that “the” in your example takes a short “e.” For more on pronouncing “the,” see my entry, Pronouncing the Definite Article.

  7. Cherise says:

    What is: “That one’s anticipation of the Almighty authorizes the absence of activity” an example of? Another sample is: “When we worship despite being weary; give thanks even when we are being tried; and provide praise in every predicament, the heart of God is made glad and ensures that our energy is enhanced.” What I am referring to is the use of descriptive words starting with the same letter. Am I right to be annoyed when this is done time and time again within a paragraph?

  8. Karl says:

    Hi Cherise,
    The figure of speech that you are referring to in the examples is alliteration. According to the Bedford St. Martin’s Elements of Poetry, “Alliteration occurs when the initial sounds of a word, beginning either with a consonant or a vowel, are repeated in close succession.”
    I can’t say whether you are “right” or not to be annoyed, but when alliteration is used excessively in prose it can make reading a little cumbersome.

  9. rachid amta_ayour says:

    ya realy depends on ,but how we can avoided the mass between lit and lighted ,if both have the same role,thus i want some illustraitions and exomples to idontify this massing between this two words,

  10. Karl says:

    Rachid, as long as you are consistent within a document, you may choose either “lit” or “lighted.” They are interchangeable.

  11. Eric Yendall says:

    “lit vs lighted”. Is this an example of American vs British usage” Most American novels I read use “lighted”. I personally prefer “lit”.
    “The room was lit by candles. He lit her cigarette. Etc.

  12. Karl says:

    Hi Eric, I don’t think it’s a simple matter of American vs. British, though there are certainly many examples of that dichotomy. I personally prefer “lit” as well. Maybe “lighted” is more of a literary affectation or embellishment. Maybe someone more educated in these matters will set us all straight. πŸ™‚

  13. Andrew says:

    I also prefer “lit.” It’s more concise, and there’s something a bit awkward about the sound of “lighted.” Still, “lighted” is the older of the two….

  14. ravi bedi says:

    aaron, would this not be better:
    “He couldn’t go to play because he didn’t finish his homework.”

  15. ravi bedi says:

    Which of these is the right choice:
    1. I appreciate your advice and wish to thank you, once again, for your time.
    2. I appreciate your advice and wish to thank you once again, for your time.
    3. I appreciate your advice, and wish to thank you once again for your time.
    Or, is there a better one.

  16. Russell Kennedy says:

    In US Coast Guard terminology an aid to navigation is Lighted if it has a light installed on it. It is Lit if the light is turned on.

  17. Karl says:

    That is a fascinating distinction, Russell! Thanks for posting the comment.

  18. Ruth says:

    Ravi – I would choose number 3 in your example. The subject I is understood in the second independent clause; therefore, the correct usage would be as follows:
    I appreciate your advice, and (I) wish to thank you once again for your time.
    Number 2 would never be correct, but you could use number 1.

  19. Alok says:

    I would say why wish. You are face to face just thanks.
    So I would prefer.
    I appreciate your advice, and thank you once again for your precious time.

  20. David Keppel says:

    Re. Andrew’s comment that “lighted” is older:
    I think “lit” is older. In general, Old English verbs were “strong”: they had “ablaut” and changed the quality of the vowel in different tenses. As time went on, strong verbs were treated as weak: the vowel quality remained but -ed was added. That does not mean that “lit” is necessarily better in either British or American English. Both seem to be acceptable in both. By contrast, “dived” is now considered more “educated” usage than “dove.”

  21. Mylla says:

    Wow! I love your site! I am a high school student and these are exactly the kind of questions I’m dealing with!
    Personally, I use the word ‘lit’ (and I’m from the midwest). ‘Lighted’ is just too much of a mouthful. It could be that I’m just being lazy. πŸ˜‰
    Ok- Related Question:
    I don’t think I can say ‘relit’ or ‘relighted’. Neither of these words are in my dictionary. However, ‘relight’ is(!). I suppose I probably need to say ‘he lit the torch again’. For some reason it sounds a little awkward to me. 8-\ Is there something I am missing?

  22. Laura H. says:

    Loss of irregular verb conjugation seems to be happening in US English frequently these days. It used to be that a defendant “pled” guilty or not guilty. Now I hear “pleaded” instead. The same thing seems to be happening with “dove” and “dived”. I guess this is just part of natural trend towards simplicity (handling all verbs the same way), but it bothers me a lot.