Sparkling and dazzling! (Words related to light, Part 1)

Evgeniy Kirillov/EyeEm/Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

I’m often surprised by the number of words and phrases that exist in a particular area of the English language. This was the case when I started to look at the language around light and all the things it does and the various ways it appears. Indeed, there are so many words that this will be a 2-part blog post.

Let’s start with the basic idea of ‘to send out light’, for which we often use the verb shine: The sun was shining. / I could see car lights shining through the fog. Shine is also used transitively to mean ‘to point a light in a particular direction’: He shone the torch on the path ahead. It additionally means ‘to reflect light, in a way that is attractive’: I find this shampoo really makes my hair shine. / She polished the wood till it shone. Another verb with this last meaning is gleam: The bathroom is gleaming! Who cleaned it?

A slightly more technical expression meaning ‘send out light’ is emit light: Most bulbs emit a white light that’s like daylight. A phrasal verb with the same meaning is give out: This lamp gives out a softer, warmer light.

If light reflects, or if a surface reflects light, the light shines back off a surface and is not absorbed by it: Moonlight reflected off the surface of the water.

A number of words refer to strong light. If a light dazzles or blinds you, it is so bright, you can’t see for a short time: She emerged from the cave, dazzled by the sunlight. / As I turned the corner, I was blinded by the low winter sun. We also use the adjectives dazzling and blinding for light that is extremely strong: The light was so bright, it was almost dazzling. / There was a sudden bang and a blinding flash of light.

Still with strong light, light that is too bright, in a way that is not comfortable or convenient, is often referred to as glare: glasses that reduce the glare of headlights. Glare is also used as a verb: The midday sun glared down on us.

The adjective brilliant describes a light that is extremely bright. It generally has a positive association: These paintings convey the vivid colours and brilliant sunshine of the Mediterranean. As a contrast, a harsh light is too bright and makes things look unattractive: In the harsh morning light, he looked old and tired.

We’ll finish with a useful phrase. If something catches the light, it reflects the light and shines: This picture captures beautifully the way her necklace catches the light.

In the next post on this theme, we’ll look at words for light that moves, or seems to move.

26 thoughts on “Sparkling and dazzling! (Words related to light, Part 1)

  1. Please make a blog or a post describing all the different ways in which prepositions like on, in, down, up, along, off, out etc are used. I mean “I’m needed up. ; I’m walking down a street. ;I’m walking up a street. ; the lights went out. ; They catch the dogs out.; how’s these things used in several different ways.

  2. Denis

    A riveting & highly informative article.
    At the same time, I’d like to add the adjective fulgent, which means shining brightly:
    ‘Bicyclists will be able to ride through the one mile exhibit of fulgent lights.’

    This adjective is mostly of a literary style.
    Surprisingly, the word fulgent is not included in Cambridge Dictionary. Nevertheless, you can look it up on other authoritative sources such as Lexico and Merriam-Webster.

  3. Vaishnavi yelagandula

    I have been using cambridge dictionary for donkey’s years! And i am greatly indebted to all the people who are contributing to this.

  4. PRANITA

    My son liked this blog very much he is just 7 but this simplified and self explained examples are really very useful to build his vocabulary… thanks a lot

  5. Kate Woodford

    Pranita, that’s so lovely to hear – thank you! I hope your son finds other posts to interest him on our website. Best wishes to you both from Cambridge.

  6. Bren

    I was going through tenses with my daughter -without much success. So I started searching for how EFL teachers do it. One thing led to another and I came across your blog 🙂

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