I have always thought that the correct expression is "in a different light," as in:

I saw my mother in a different light. We all need to do that. You have to be displaced from what’s comfortable and routine, and then you get to see things with fresh eyes, with new eyes. ~ Amy Tan

Hence, it has always bothered me on the default Stack Exchange election questionnaire where it says,

A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that? [emphasis added]

Is "under a different light" correct? Is it simply a local variant? Should it be rather, "in a different light"?

  • 4
    The idiom is usually "to see someone in a different light". Yes, using "under" would be a variant of the same expression, but the first is by far the most common. See google Ngram
    – Billy Kerr
    May 31, 2022 at 13:28
  • 1
    It's worth noting that using a variant isn't necessarily wrong. Adjusting the preposition changes the "flavor" of the statement and, therefore, its specific context. "Under," in SE's example, conveys the idea of something being examined where "in" only conveys the idea that a changing circumstances may require changing expectations or interpretations. Language is often an art as much as a science.
    – JBH
    May 31, 2022 at 17:10
  • @BillyKerr That looks like an answer to me.
    – Joachim
    May 31, 2022 at 18:27
  • 1
    under is for a physical light. in is for the metaphor.
    – Lambie
    May 31, 2022 at 18:39
  • 1
    @DavidSiegel I would say pretty much always. We saw the wounds under a different light. We saw the wounds in a different light [after some x].
    – Lambie
    May 31, 2022 at 18:42

1 Answer 1


Either can be val;id as a metaphor, or as a literal description. There is no rule which confines one preposition to one meaning here.

One most often says that one

Sees X in a different light.

when one is speaking metaphorically, meaning that one perceives X in a different way, often due to some change of circumstance.

However, an artist or a photographer might speak of "seeing the subject in a different light" when refering to actual lighting conditions.

Under is more often used for actual lighting conditions, as in:

I saw her under a bright, direct light.

But when the light is described as "different" that somewhat suggests a metaphoric use. As this Google Ngram shows the form "in a different light" is much more common than "under a different light".

Even so, the use of "under may suggest a literal comparison, as in:

A colourist may be happy with his matched sample under a particular light, but when the user observes the standard and sample under a different light, he may be surprised to see distinct colour differences between them. [Principles of Colour and Appearance Measurement by Asim Kumar Roy Choudhury ( 2014 ) p 174)

But in some cases "under" is used with a metaphoric intention. For example in In-Between Identities: Signs of Islam in Contemporary American Writing (p 117) the author cites a rap verse 'Undder a Different Light" where the expression is clearly used in a metaphoric sense. Other such examples:

  • Under a Watchful Eye: Self, Power, and Intimacy in Amazonia (2013, p 214) --

... rather than simply “created” in Amazonia, the conceptual framework advanced by Gell (1998) may help us to pursue these issues under a different light.

  • By Monomoy Light: Nature and Healing in an Island Sanctuary by North T. Cairn (2000, p 26)

It's the specifics that trip you up — or , under a different light , illuminate the finer points of what it means to love.

  • An Infinite God and a Father-Son God: The Theology of God by Kenan Osborne OFM (2019)

We will better appreciate the ancients if we lay aside the above flawed methodology and remember that they are singing in a different key, or—to change metaphors—that they are working under a different light.

  • A Conversation Analysis Approach to French L2 Learning by Clelia König (2019)

Narratives, however, have also been analyzed under a different light, namely regarding their intrinsic property of structuring the conversation in a specific way.

  • A History of Theology by Yves Congar, ‎Joseph Guthrie( 2019, p251)

The history of biblical doctrines and Christian doctrines materially have the same object as positive theology, but they view and attain that object under a different light and according to different criteria.

  • The Tito–Stalin Split and Yugoslavia's Military Opening by - Ivan Laković, ‎Dmitar Tasić (2016, p145)

Chapter Seven: "Under a Different light"

  • The Constitution Under Social Justice by Antonio Rosmini (2006, p. xxxvi)

In a manner of speaking, his sympathies for the Restoration should be looked to under a different light than those of the great conservatives.

  • Historical Social Research [Issues 115-116] (2006, p. 127)

This puts the classical units of comparative history , especially national formations , under a different light , their hold on us becoming more obvious , and maybe more controllable.

  • Justifying the Margins by Pierre Joris (2009 , p. 27)

prefer to consider it under a different light, the light of my own “nomadic poetics” which, I think, is better able to articulate the collage or assemblage aspect of the work with its syntactical disruptive modes.

  • Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema by Warren Buckland (2009, p. 103)

The fact that it appears in Leonard's mind after the killing of the wrong person puts the entire story under a different light, and we touch on the unreliability of the main character.

Hotbeds: Black-white Love in Novels from the United States by Pia Thielmann (2004 p. 94)

The fog has a racially unifying component, but under a ifferent light, under closer scrutiny the white woman's race / ism will show.

  • Is Scientific Knowledge Rational? by Halil Rahman Açar (2008, p. 14)

In the following pages, I will try to look at rationality under a different light and defend it.

Many additional examples could be cited. While a general search for the string "under a different light" seems to return about 90% literal and 10% metaphoric uses, a google books search excluding "source", "field" and "level" gives a much higher percentage of metaphoric uses. Excluding "Polymer", "plastic" and "dental" as well gives more than half of the uses clearly metaphoric.

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