"Lighted" versus "lit"

When I’m using the past tense of the verb “to light”, I say “lit.” Everyone I know does the same.

But in some older literature (Dickens and Steinbeck mostly - though I know Steinbeck is perhaps not too “old”) I often come across the word “lighted” - a character “lighted” a lamp, or “lighted” a cigarette, for example.

Was this usage (“lighted”) common back then (1800s to mid-1900s)? Is it still in use in any areas today?

Ngram search for lighted vs. lit.

Both clearly have always been used. Lit became preferred around 1950. I don’t know of any real reason other than usage does these things regularly.

“Lighted,” in the sense of descending, e.g. a ladder or horse, is the past tense of “light.”

Isn’t that just a contraction of alighted, like phone from telephone?

Lights are what sheep and cows breathe with when we eat 'em.

According to dictionary.com, either can be used interchangeably at any time, both simple past and past participle.

I’d call it a shortening, rather than a contraction; you wouldn’t begin it with an apostrophe. But what I meant was, in this context, lighted or alighted would both be correct, but lit would be wrong. You wouldn’t say that someone lit from a horse (correct me if I’m mistaken).

There is a (dialect, slang, I don’t know) usage “lit out” for bolting from some place, usually after someone.

This is a different meaning of the word than what is used in the OP (they are homonyms). I can’t find out exactly when they split, but alight (to descend from) comes from one of the meanings of light (the opposite of heavy). ‘Light’ seems to have been used to refer to illumination and non-heaviness since Old English times.

‘Lighted’ as a synonym of ‘lit’ (to make something illuminated) is a perfectly logical morphological construction, but it sounds a little peculiar to our ears nowadays. ‘Lit’ is an irregular verb. What most likely happened is, ‘lit’ endured as a vestigial weak germanic verb during the Great Vowel Shift.

If they’re breathing when you’re eating 'em… you’re doing it wrong.


Is this a strong/weak verb thing? I know some weak verbs ended up being conjugated like strong verbs by analogy. Don’t have any of my ling books on me.

My observation is that “lit” is used in the Midwest, while “lighted” is used on the East Coast. It’s similar to the “pop” vs “soda” split.

“Commissioner Gordon lighted up the clouds with the Bat Signal, but Bruce Wayne did not notice – he’d been partying all night and was completely lit.”