I've noticed that in English there are several words which describe light or radiance remaining in the sky after the sun has set. For instance there is "afterglow" which, in my opinion, refers to a more effulgent kind of sunlight that is scattered in the sky after sunset. There is "gloaming" which refers to a dim and faint light. There is of course "dusk" which is a darker stage of twilight. I can also think of crepuscular light but I think it has a bit different meaning with a subtle twilight connotation and also a tad esoteric. As you might notice there are several words which denote sunset colours but I wasn't able to find anything precise which would imply the same glow but with a reference to sunrise. Although if we check definition of "afterglow" in the Oxford Dictionary we see that it's explicitly mentioned

after the sun has set.

But in case of other words such as "gloaming", "twilight" or "crepuscular" this is not mentioned. Can a native speaker confirm that I may use those words in the context of sunrise glow? The closest I've found so far is twilight and word combination "sunrise twilight" seemingly might be found in different text corpora. But I am very keen to know whether there is a more precise word.

P.S. "dawn", "cockcrow" and "daybreak" denote mostly a time instance hence I think they are irrelevant here.

  • 1
    Hi and thanks for visiting EL&U, one of the requirements for the single-word-requests tag is that you show what research you have done. In this instance I think it would be worth you showing what has led you to the conclusion that 'twilight', 'gloaming' and 'crepuscular' can only be applied to sunset,
    – Spagirl
    Nov 5 '18 at 12:36
  • Hi @Spagirl , I have to concede that it's hard to say what has led me to this conclusion. I'm not a native speaker, and consequently there is a high chance I may be missing some subtle layer of understanding when a particular word may or may not be used. But I'm an avid reader and in those cases when some of the aforementioned words were used, I noticed that the context or setting was referred to a sunset. But I agree these are meagre facts. I shall remove this claim from my question then. If you believe these words actually may be used to describe a sunrise glow I will not argue. Nov 5 '18 at 14:50
  • Well I rather intended for you to do more research than remove claims, as I said, it is incumbent on those asking questions here to demonstrate research particularly on the single-word-requests tag. But since it gave me an opportunity to dispel potential confusion on a bunch of terms I've rolled them into an answer.
    – Spagirl
    Nov 5 '18 at 16:04

Consulting the Oxford English Dictionary reveals that while the first definition for 'gloaming' refers specifically to sunset

a. Evening twilight.

the OED also admits of a second meaning

b. Said occasionally of morning twilight.

from which we can also note that 'twilight' itself is not reserved to sunset, as confirmed by the OED definition:

  1. The light diffused by the reflection of the sun's rays from the atmosphere before sunrise, and after sunset; the period during which this prevails between daylight and darkness.

'Crepuscular' is also related to the ambiguous 'twilight'

  1. Of or pertaining to twilight.

but also specifically to morning

b. esp. Resembling or likened to the morning twilight as preceding the full light of day; characterized by (as yet) imperfect enlightenment.

So certainly there is nothing in any of those definitions to prevent you using them to describe morning light. Indeed, even 'effulgent' which you claim as a quality more pertinent to sunset is defined as:

Shining forth brilliantly; sending forth intense light; resplendent, radiant

Which cannot be more applicable to the going down of the sun than its rising.

However, I think I do understand what you are getting at. The growing dawn light is perceived as perhaps paler and cooler than sunset, and you seem to be looking for a term relating to the sky itself rather than general light levels, as such I would suggest that 'Brightening' may be appropriate:

Brightening n. 1. The action of making or becoming bright; illumination.

While the term is not exclusive to this meaning, it is used and understood in context, as per this example from Photoreview.com.au

The 'golden hours' for landscape photography occur between pre-dawn brightening in the sky and about an hour-and-a-half after sunrise in the morning

and this from a random blog

I crack the window. I blink, keeping my eyes closed too long. There's a brightening in the sky. I step on it. I arrive home with the dawn, relieved.

*all definitions per OED


Merriam-Webster's (the preferred American reference dictionary) suggests "alpenglow," which arrived in English via German at some point in the late-ish 19th century. Though I think the arguments made in Answer 1 are thorough and well researched, they don't quite convince me. Words such as crepuscular connote, if not dennote, post-sunset to most readers. Using them may have the support of the OED (a most peculiar dictionary, as it is based entirely on historical usage), but will be confusing to most readers. The phrase "pre-dawn light" is dull and not evoctive, but it has the benefit of being unambiguous.


First light is used to refer to the luminescence of dawn:

the time when light is first seen in the morning : dawn

  • She was up at first light.


  • The definition you have given is clear that it refers to a time rather than the quality of the light and so would have the same issue as 'dawn' and 'daybreak' in not being what the OP is looking for, surely?
    – Spagirl
    Nov 5 '18 at 12:26

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