Let's say you were storytelling something about a hut that was struck by lightning, is there any difference between the two?

The lightning struck the hut and set it alight?


The lightning struck the hut and set it on fire?


5 Answers 5


Alight could simply mean "lit up". It does not specifically tells if the thing is on fire or not. (Especially in American English)

There's not much difference in British usage, but it's better to use set it on fire as this clearly describes the event without leaving a doubt in the reader's mind.

  • 3
    You could also say 'set it afire' - it means the same as 'set it on fire', but it sounds cooler when telling a story :)
    – tryin
    Jul 26, 2019 at 6:21
  • Should lighted up be lit up ?
    – Smock
    Jul 29, 2019 at 10:37
  • 1
    @I assume your not American, they use strange phrases like burned up etc.
    – Brad
    Jul 29, 2019 at 10:49
  • 2
    @Brad you're*, please. Jul 29, 2019 at 13:15
  • @Brad I don't see what's so AmE about burned up
    – Smock
    Jul 31, 2019 at 10:19

That use of alight sounds awkward to me. Things can be alight, but you don't set them alight. I'm not saying it's technically incorrect, just that IMHO it would be distracting to me as a reader.

On fire is fine, but probably what you're looking for is ablaze.


To me there is a difference between set alight and set on fire and set ablaze. It really depends on what happens next or what you want to draw attention to.

If the hut is far away and you can only see light, then set alight makes sense. You really don't have the sense of fire or of the fire spreading etc. The hut may have just lit up from the lightning and didn't really "catch on fire".


The difference is the second example uses an Idiom to explain what happens

alight adjective [ after verb ] UK ​ /əˈlaɪt/ US ​ /əˈlaɪt/ alight adjective [ after verb ] (BURNING)

The rioters overturned several cars and set them alight.

--Cambridge English Dictionary

Reference Cambridge Thesaurus

Idioms set sth/sb on fire set fire to sth/sb

  • Agree -- "alight" is not a very common word but when I see it used, I assume the first meaning which is burning. Simply "lighted up by lights" is the second meaning in the Cambridge dictionary and less common in my experience, too. Jul 29, 2019 at 10:45

The lightning struck the hut and set it alight.

There are two possible meanings [1](https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/alight"Cambridge Dictionary"):


In my experience (BrE) the former is usually what I would assume, but it honestly would just depend on what the next line of the story was.

The lightning struck the hut and set it on fire

Only has one (synonymous to burning).

Why use alight in all its speculative glory? Simply because it looks better and shows a higher vocabulary level.

I don't agree with whywasinotconsulted and have no issue with being set alight. (Although I'd like to clarify by that I mean the phrase, my opinion would change if you were to actually set me alight/on fire.)

I do also agree with everyone who suggested "ablaze". This is a wonderful word, in my opinion.

I might also suggest:

The lightning struck the hut and it went up in flames.

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