I'm really confused about the correct usage of dusk and twilight. Can we use them to describe the time before night falls or day breaks?

  • What did you find in the dictionary entries for these words?
    – herisson
    Apr 23, 2016 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


This is actually an interesting question, since they aren't quite synonyms as one might imagine. Here's what a bit of research produced:

The casual difference in definition is as follows (via Wikipedia):


Twilight is the illumination of the Earth's lower atmosphere when the Sun itself is not directly visible because it is below the horizon.


Dusk is the darkest stage of twilight in the evening.

However, there are 3 more rigorously defined types of twilight and dusk — civil, nautical, and astronomical. Here are the distinctions (via timeanddate.com):

Civil Twilight:

Civil twilight occurs when the Sun is less than 6 degrees below the horizon. In the morning, civil twilight begins when the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon and ends at sunrise. In the evening, it begins at sunset and ends when the Sun reaches 6 degrees below the horizon.

Civil Dusk:

Civil dusk is the moment when the geometrical center of the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon in the evening.

Nautical Twilight:

Nautical twilight occurs when the geometrical center of the Sun is between 6 degrees and 12 degrees below the horizon. This twilight period is less bright than civil twilight and artificial light is generally required for outdoor activities.

Nautical Dusk:

Nautical dusk occurs when the Sun goes 12 degrees below the horizon in the evening.

Astronomical Twilight:

Astronomical twilight occurs when the Sun is between 12 degrees and 18 degrees below the horizon.

Astronomical Dusk:

Astronomical dusk is the instant when the geographical center of the Sun is at 18 degrees below the horizon. After this point, the sky is no longer illuminated.

  • Nick: that means twilight comes first and dusk second?
    – mido mido
    Apr 23, 2016 at 16:45
  • 1
    Yes- at night, twilight is a period that dusk comes at the end of.
    – Nick
    Apr 23, 2016 at 16:47
  • 1
    In common usage (at least in American English), they seem to be completely interchangeable (along with sunset), except for poetic differences. By "poetic", I mean that dusk has possibly more sinister connotations than twilight, and of course there are commonly used phrases like "dawn 'til dusk" where one would not be swapped for the other. Apr 23, 2016 at 18:17
  • I think of dusk as relating to a stage of the sunset process, while twilight describes the light in the sky. For example in a very northerly (or southerly) place, you might have days or weeks of twilight, but dusk would only happen once (or not at all).
    – Grundoon
    Apr 23, 2016 at 20:07

To add to @Nick's answer dusk = evening and twilight = morning or evening although first light and dawn are more often used when referring to the morning.

  • Also: daybreak.
    – Færd
    Apr 24, 2016 at 10:23

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