Today’s post is all about light: shining light, shedding light, enlightening, and more.
Which of the following words fits best in the blanks: enlighten, illuminate, shed light on, shine light on, elucidate?
So you thought it would be a good idea to drop out of university and become a busker. Can you ___________ us about how you’re going to make ends meet?
The journalist was hoping her article would _____________ on the dark side of this industry.
Scientists have ________________ the causes of the rapid spread of this devastating disease.
The first chapter of this work _______________the post-War era.
Could you _________________ on the extensive changes that have been made to this text?
To enlighten someone is to provide them with information and understanding, to explain the true facts.
You’ll often hear enlighten used in a request: ‘Could you enlighten me…?’
The related adjectives (based on past and present participles) are of interest too:
enlightened means open to new ideas, showing understanding and wisdom; not following old-fashioned or false beliefs.
You could say, for example, that your employer is enlightened (if the company allows staff to work from home, or fathers to take paternity leave). You might talk about an enlightened policy, or say that a person is enlightened if they are broad-minded or liberal.
enlightening is said of a comment or conversation that gives you new insight or an ‘aha!’ moment.
While illuminate can mean ‘explain, give more information’ – for example, ‘this is an article which illuminates the issue’, I think it is more commonly used with the meaning ‘to light something up, to make it brighter’:
The streets were illuminated with strings of multicoloured fairy lights.
The adjective illuminating, on the other hand, is quite common, and means much the same thing as enlightening.
Shed (some) light on
This is a nice alternative to ‘explain’. It means ‘to provide explanations or information so that something can be understood easily’.
The dictionary suggests that you can also say ‘cast light on’ or ‘throw light on’, but in my experience, these are less common (or perhaps they are American English).
A more formal synonym of shed light on is elucidate (you can see the etymology is the same; all of these words are related in some way to the Latin lux, meaning light).
Shine a light on
This expression is sometimes used with its literal meaning of highlighting, or giving an explanation to make something clearer, but my feeling is that it is most commonly used to express the idea of metaphorically putting a spotlight on a secret or something unsavoury:
The US hopes a UN debate on Iran will shine a light on Tehran’s mistreatment of prisoners.
More expressions with ‘light’
- there’s a light at the end of the tunnel (expressing hope)
- their relationship wasn’t all sweetness and light (meaning it wasn’t always harmonious)
- to give the green light to something (to give approval or authorisation)
These headlines are taken from the press. Can you fill in the blanks with shed light on or shine a light on?
Chelsea Bridge death: Family of tasered man ‘want to ___________on injustice’
Ancient texts _____________ on mysterious whale behaviour that ‘captured imagination’
In dark days, parliamentary democracy must _________ the strongest possible ________ on the questions that face us all.
How ancient footprints __________ on America’s first teenagers
Azeem Rafiq’s testimony should_____________ on racism in every workplace
Let’s ____________ on the dark art of micropolitics in universities
Could whistling __________ on the origins of speech?
Labour needs to ______________ on Tory failures
Protein discovery on human eggs may _____________- on unexplained infertility