Usually, the verb (to) alight can be used to express:

  • Landing somewhere
  • Disembarking a vehicle

But since you can also set something alight, I've been wondering if someone would light my cigar if I told him, "please alight."

In other words, does the a- prefix bear a constructive or destructive meaning?

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    Yes, you could. It would be a unique usage. There's nothing inherently wrong in that. It would probably be marked wrong on a test. – Arm the good guys in America Nov 14 '17 at 18:53
  • I can imagine Geoff Pullum's advice on 'how to respond to someone requesting "Please alight" '. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 15 '17 at 0:13

The OED attests to several verb meanings of alight that have fallen out of common usage (marked rare):

  1. trans. To shed light on; to illuminate, enlighten (lit. and fig.).

    1999 D. Tobin Passage to Center 301: Such repose alights the face of The Tollund Man and Gunnar.

  2. trans. To set light to; to light, ignite. Also fig.

    2009 S. Akhter Faith & Philos. Islam vi. 89: The Holy Quran is an extraordinary pearl... Every fruit of good luck is found in it and every torch is alighted from it.

I would not use them in modern communication except for deliberate literary effect.

The etymology of this verb use of alight is treated as uncertain, but it may be a reduction of the obsolete onlight, which also means to shed light upon or to cause to shine. The OED further suggests that the adjective/adverb use of alight derived from the verb and was later reinterpreted by analogy to afire and aflame.

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I don't think, you can ask someone to "alight your cigar".. you can probably say "do you have a matchbox/ lighter so that my cigar is alight". In other words, alight refers to 'fire' only as an adjective and not as a verb.

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  • Nice answer, if you provide a source. – Davo Nov 14 '17 at 18:43
  • my go-to online dictionary, merriam-webster, makes this exact distinction in its definitions for alight. (However, your example sentence, "so that my cigar is alight", sounds horribly contrived....) – Hellion Nov 14 '17 at 18:47
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    Your example isn't right; that's like saying "Do you have a matchbox/lighter so that my cigar is on fire?". You'd have to say something like "Do you have a matchbox/lighter to set my cigar alight?" (although as mentioned above, that would still be very contrived". – Mark Beadles Nov 14 '17 at 18:57

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