Column: How to properly get lit


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

I’m a lamp guy. I love lamps. They serve a functional purpose and provide beauty in a room. So when I see a great lamp at an antique store or at an upscale garage sale, you’d better believe I’m going to buy it, put it in the back seat and put a seat belt on it.

But the real question is, once I find the right spot in my living room for my new lamp, does it make the area well lit or well lighted? What is the difference between lit and lighted? Grammar Guy’s on the case.

The super-short answer is both lit and lighted are correct past tense forms of light. Technically, lit is considered an irregular verb because you have to change the spelling of light to make it past tense, whereas lighted is regular because you simply add -ed. Although over the years lit has gained popularity in common usage, there are some distinct ways each word usually gets used.

Lit is usually used as the simple, past tense verb of light. It means to illuminate or set on fire. The cake’s lit candles inadvertently set aunt Helen’s hair on fire. Or this: The fireflies’ pleasantly blinking butt muscles lit the dark forest clearing.

Lighted can either be used as an adjective or a past tense verb. When lighted is used as an adjective, it means something like relating to being illuminated: The brightly lighted living room shone brilliantly thanks to dad’s new leg lamp. Or this: The glow of my lighted torch allowed us to see in the secret cave.

As a past tense verb, lighted should be used as the past participle of light. As a reminder, a past participle verb usually requires an auxiliary word in front of it, like had or have: We had already lighted our glow sticks by the time the dance party got into full swing.

Although technically lit and lighted are interchangeable (and therefore correct), in popular usage, lit is more commonly used in the simple past tense while lighted is more commonly used as a past participle verb.

Happy lamp shopping. Just don’t get too lit or you’ll end up with the lampshade on your head.

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