We say "I lit the candle" to express an action.

Can I say "the candle is lit" to express the candle in a burning state?

I think we say "something is burning" when we emphasize that thing is being destroyed.

However, a candle is designed to be burned. "The candle is burning" might signify the meaning the candle is being destroyed.

We say "I lit the candle" because the candle is designed to be burned.

If we say "I burned the candle", we emphasize I destroyed the candle.

  • 2
    My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— It gives a lovely light!” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay, A Few Figs from Thistles A very famous poem.
    – Lambie
    Apr 14 at 14:44
  • 1
    A Candle is Burning (Tune: Away in the Manger) A candle is burning, a flame warm and bright, A candle of hope in December’s dark night mrsblackmore.weebly.com/uploads/1/9/7/1/19718463/… A candle burns. There was a candle buning on the table.
    – Lambie
    Apr 14 at 14:46
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    You only ever burn the midnight oil. I ever heard of anyone lighting it. Apr 14 at 17:37
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    "something is burning" just means it is on fire, not necessarily being destored by the fire. "burning down", does mean that it is being destroyed. Apr 15 at 14:59
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    But, But, But,... A candle is destroyed when you use it as intended. The destruction is slow, but it is utterly complete. I've got this one brass candlestick, and some high-quality candles that fit it, and if I leave a candle burning until the flame goes out, there will be nothing left but a little bit of blackened wick sitting in the bottom of the socket. There's not even a smear of wax left behind. Apr 15 at 22:39

4 Answers 4


Yes, a lit candle or the candle is lit. "Lit" is one of these participles that has become, or is becoming, an adjective.

But "burning" is also used:

Keep lit candles away from drafts and vibrations. Do not touch or move the candle whilst it is burning.


Once lit, keep the candle burning for at least two hours at a time. Burning for less time can make the candle tunnel.


  • 1
    Your source 1 also says: Do not burn your candle on or near anything that can catch fire. which is useful in terms of his question...
    – Lambie
    Apr 14 at 14:56

Lighted candle is more idiomatic than lit candle. (See this Ngram).

(In response to comments) Well, it feels much more idiomatic to me (70+). According to one of the results, Ebenezer Brewer in 1882 went so far as to say that 'lit candle' was incorrect, but in recent decades it seems to be creeping into acceptability.

Burn doesn't always mean 'destroy by burning', if the reference is to a candle or oil lamp. We can speak of 'a candle burning in the window', for example.

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    Your ngram shows "lighted candle" being gradually overtaken by "lit candle". "Lighted" is still around, but to me it sounds distinctly old-fashioned. It may also be regional. Apr 14 at 21:47
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    I would certainly understand "lighted", but I'm personally more used to hearing "lit", and that's the word choice I usually would make myself. On that basis, I claim that "lit" is more idiomatic in my part of the world. Apr 15 at 14:29
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    I find "lighted candle" sufficiently odd that I would suspect it might be a non-native speaker saying it. Apr 15 at 14:48
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    What is your flavor of English, Kate? I tried the Ngram and found the pattern you describe in both BrE and AmE but I'm with the other commenters who found this odd. My ignorance is even deeper: I would have called lighted candle outright wrong, even, but I would clearly have been incorrect to do so. So I'm wondering if there's a dialectical aspect to this.
    – terdon
    Apr 15 at 15:40
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    I strongly disagree, "lighted candle" sounds very unidiomatic to me (a 30 year old native Standard Southern British English speaker). I'm also very surprised at the n-grams results, but looking at the actual instances, the majority appear to be Christian texts, possibly aiming to slightly mirror more old-fashioned styles often found in Bible translations. Given that it seems that even in British English (which currently shows a slight preference for "lighted candle" in the n-gram plot) "lit candle" is strongly preferred in general use
    – Tristan
    Apr 16 at 9:31

You could also describe the candle's state by saying that it is alight — which means that it's:

burning, lit, on fire.

and/or that it's:

shining with light; luminous, radiant

  • The candle is burning
  • The candle is lit

Both are fine and essentially mean the same thing, but 'burning' perhaps emphasises the candle being used up - a candle "burns down" and then goes out. Maybe "lit" is the better description of a candle's condition when it is emitting light.

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