Can't grasp the difference and the use cases of these 2 words. They both seem to mean something close to "set on fire", but what is the exact meaning, and are their use cases the same?

Can one ignite a candle, or kindle a candle?

The second sounds somewhat awkward to me and I haven't heard anyone using it. The usage examples are welcome.

  • The actual definitions are more detailed, and should be added to your question along with what issue you cannot resolve. – user3169 Mar 25 '15 at 16:48
  • @apsillers I agree that this question should not be closed, but it is always helpful to know what definitions the OP is working from. – ColleenV Mar 25 '15 at 16:59
up vote 26 down vote accepted

Personally, I wouldn't do either; I light a candle.

Kindle is a slow process, like when you're starting a fire in a fireplace. Kindling is little bits of wood or other material that you feed to the fire to get it going. Personally, it sounds weird to me if you're not talking about something like a wood fire.

Ignite is quick. If lightning hits something and sets it on fire, it was ignited, not kindled. You can ignite gas, but not kindle it.

Both of these words have metaphorical uses which similarly are different in the implied speed of the action. Someone's work might kindle interest in a subject while a controversial comment by a politician ignites debate.

  • 3
    I think the explanation of kindle as slow and ignite as quick is very good. – ColleenV Mar 25 '15 at 17:27
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    Absolutely. Noting the change in usage over the past couple of centuries, I think the easiest way for learners to approach this one is to simply ignore kindle completely. It's not exactly "archaic", but few people use it these days. For most purposes, ignite is "formal, technical", whereas light is just a "normal, everyday" word. – FumbleFingers Mar 25 '15 at 18:37
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    TBH, the only thing I can think of that you kindle (other than a fire) is a romance. In addition, kindle as a verb is more about providing fuel to support and encourage ignition; it's not synonymous with ignite. – Dancrumb Mar 25 '15 at 20:53
  • Excellent answer. I love that you pointed out that neither option is as commonly used as to light. – michelle Mar 26 '15 at 19:24
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    Kindling is material used in a specific step in the process of building a fire. It goes spark (or embers) -> tinder -> kindling -> wood (or whatever fuel). Kindling is also the act you do to go from a spark to an open flame. – fectin Jan 31 '17 at 1:23

Your feeling about this one is correct. You can't kindle a candle. I think it is important to know that the word 'kindling' means very small pieces of wood or material that catches fire easily, so kindle is more appropriately used where you are focusing on that process of adding a spark to something flammable, and are expecting that initial spark to grow into something larger. That isn't really what happens with a candle, where you are merely burning a wick and the initial flame is usually as large as the fire will ever become.

Kindle can be used as a metaphor, too, for something small that grows into something larger. If you think of Amazon's e-reader, for example, it is marketed as a small device that opens up an entire library of books for you - it was really a brilliant use of the word 'kindle' as a metaphor, whatever you think of the merits of the device.

To ignite is to 'Start the fire' To kindle is to 'Keep the fire going'

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    I think this is completely wrong. To the extent that kindle has any direct implications for the start/maintain distinction, it very definitely describes starting a fire, rather than keeping it going. – FumbleFingers Mar 25 '15 at 18:11
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    Hi Edd - I agree with @FumbleFingers that kindle is starting a fire, not keeping it going (I would call that stoking the fire). Do you have any references that might support your interpretation? – ColleenV Mar 25 '15 at 18:24
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    @FumbleFingers I agree, but this is a first post and I'm trying to be a little gentler with new users. It's possible there's an incorrect reference out there that led Edd down the wrong path. – ColleenV Mar 25 '15 at 18:42
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    @FumbleFingers My comment might have been gentler, but I did vote to delete. I just didn't want to do that without some sort of guidance on how to write a better answer the next time. – ColleenV Mar 25 '15 at 18:57
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    @Fumble - I appreciate Colleen's approach. As a moderator who sees many of these answers flagged, I think the gentler approach is a good one for brand new users, in that it gives these user time to mull over the advice and hopefully improve the answer. Your admonishment about "not tolerating bad answers" came a mere 30 minutes after this user's first post! Not exactly something that will encourage the user to come back and learn how things work. – J.R. Mar 25 '15 at 19:26

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