Lighted vs. lit

Lighted and lit each work as the past tense and past participle of the verb light. Both have long histories in English and are used throughout the English-speaking world, so you are generally safe using the one that sounds best to you. Keep in mind, though, that lit is generally favored for both uses outside the U.S. (though lighted, again, appears some of the time). Lighted, where it does appear, is usually an adjective (e.g., a lighted grill), while lit is more often a verb (e.g., she lit the grill).

Neither form is inherently more American or more British. Both forms are hundreds of years old, and each has had periods of prevalence throughout its history. It just happens that at this stage in history lighted is more common in American English than elsewhere.

This ngram graphs the use of lighted and lit in American English from 1800 to 2019.

lit vs lighted American English

And this ngram graphs the words’ use in British English during the same period.

lit vs lighted British English

Of course, these Ngrams don’t show how the words are used, but they at least suggest that usage has been far from consistent.



The news lit up the Web like a brush fire. [USA Today]

Amid the greenery of the serene indoor bamboo pond were lighted balloons shaped like extraterrestrials. [New York Times]

When a circle of lit candles was placed on the cake it was supposed to glow like the moon. [Arizona Republic]

In September, a good portion of the Internet lighted up with the news that DMX … was somehow unfamiliar with Google. [LA Times]

Outside the U.S.

He suspected youngsters had lit plastic bags filled with gas. [New Zealand Herald]

Vancouver author Zsuzsi Gartner is a lit firecracker left unattended on a summer lawn chair. [Winnipeg Free Press]

The attackers lit tyres inside the mosque in Al-Mughayyir village. [Telegraph]

25 thoughts on “Lighted vs. lit”

  1. I have always assumed (learned as a child?) that lighted meant illuminated and lit meant ignited, which is somewhat reflected in the quotes above.

  2. I would use lit in all situations unless referring to the presence of an installed source of illumination. In these instances the word applies whether or not the lights are on. “The Christmas tree is lighted with 2.000 pink bulbs.” “The sign, garishly lighted with neon, immediately excited the ire of the civic association.”

  3. I am an American and use both forms. I am more likely to use the word lit when referring to the use of a flame. She lit the grill, the candle, the match. I would use lighted when referring to the use of lighting. The path was well lighted, meaning that it was illuminated very well with lights.

  4. I have always understood the difference to be that, while a campfire can be “Lit”, a parking lot is generally “Lighted” at night, unless, of course, someone has set the parking lot ablaze.

  5. Lit lit lit, but alighted.
    It’s those bloody Americans again isn’t it. With their Jagwar, color and aluminum.

  6. It’s not a matter of how it sounds.

    If you lighted something – you would have cast light on it, like when using a flash in flash photography.

    If you lit something, you set it on fire.

    These are two different words used to describe two different scenarios and ideas, so just picking one because it sounds better is not an option.

    If you light it, you’re shining a light on it, as in “She stepped onto the lighted stage.”
    If you lit it, you sparked it up as in “He lit the fire quickly.”

  7. “The news lit up the Web like a brush fire. [USA Today]” – terrible example for a comparison!
    In the uk, we would never use that analogy to describe viral news…. and what the F is a ‘brush’ fire?

    • Well Charlie, good thing it was in “USA” Today and not the Daily Mail or the Guardian. Simply because you are not familiar with an example does not make it terrible. FYI, A brush fire is a quickly spreading fire that burns the arid undergrowth that is often associated with the American (“USA”) West.

      Just as an exemplar of “sweet as bread pudding” would make a fine example in the UK it may not be widely understood in USA Today.

      Now go run up the apples and pears and pay tuppence to your internet provider to broaden your world view.

  8. It seems that “lighted” connects more in the mind with “light,” the property or concept of light, hence to “make or activate light.” “Lit” seems to better connect with the very act of activating light. It makes more sense (to me) to say “I lit the lamp,” and “I lighted the room,” since the room receives light, but the lamp receives the action of lighting.


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