Light vs. Lighten

Light vs. Lighten

“Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life.”

Roy T. Bennett, an American author

In this post, let’s look at the differences in meaning and usage of the verbs “light” and “lighten”.

Light (lit; lit)

The verb “light” generally refers to the action of illuminating something or making it brighter (1). It can also mean to ignite or set something on fire (2):

  1. I lit the room with a beautiful chandelier, casting a warm glow across the space. (1)
  2. The sunrise painted the sky with vibrant colors, lighting up the horizon. (1)
  3. She lit the candles to create a cozy atmosphere. (2)
  4. I used a match to light the campfire, and soon the flames were dancing and crackling. (2)

“Light up” is often used when the act of illuminating or brightening something creates a notable or dramatic effect. Compared to the verb “light”, the phrase “light up” adds a sense of emphasis or visual impact to the act of lighting. For example:

  1. The fireworks lit up the night sky, creating a breathtaking display.
  2. The city streets are beautifully lit up with colorful holiday decorations.

“Light up” can also be used when someone becomes visibly excited or delightful. For example:

  1. Her smile lit up the room, spreading joy to everyone around her.
  2. When Jack saw the surprise gift, his face instantly lit up with excitement.


The verb “lighten” has a few different meanings. It can mean to make something less heavy or to decrease the load or burden of something (1). It can also mean to make something less serious, intense or gloomy (2):

  1. He lightened his backpack by removing unnecessary items. (1)
  2. Her humor lightened the mood in the room. (2)
  3. A funny movie can often lighten your spirits after a long tiring day. (2)
  4. He shared some uplifting stories to lighten the atmosphere. (2)

“Lighten” can mean to make something brighter, just like “light.” In that case, the meanings of the two verbs are overlapping: We use the lamp to lighten/light (up) the room.

In summary, while there may be instances where “lighten” and “light” can be used interchangeably, “lighten” has additional meanings related to reducing weight and making something less serious/gloomy.


Complete the sentences with either “light” or “lighten.” Change the verb form if necessary. The answer key is below the image.

  1. Adding colorful decorations to the room helped to ___ the overall ambiance.
  2. They decided to go for a walk to ___ their heavy hearts.
  3. The sunset painted the clouds in vibrant hues, ___ up the entire horizon.
  4. He struck a match to ___ his cigarette.
  5. The doctor’s reassuring words helped to ___ the burden of Jane’s worries.
  6. I always carry a lighter with me in case I need to ___ a candle or start a fire in an emergency.
  7. The comedy show was just what they needed to ___ their spirits after a long day.

Answer key: 1. lighten 2. lighten 3. lighting 4. light 5. lighten 6. light 7. lighten

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