I've observed that in the English language, there exist several terms denoting the luminous remnants of sunlight in the sky after the sun has set.

For instance, the term afterglow evokes a particularly effulgent quality of scattered sunlight after sunset. On the other hand, gloaming (an exceptionally rare word) denotes a more subdued and faint light, while dusk implies a darker stage of twilight. Although the term crepuscular light bears a similar connotation, it carries a slightly different nuance with a hint of technicality, especially in more specialized contexts.

As discerning readers may have noted, numerous words in the English language refer to the colours of a sunset, but I have yet to discover a term which precisely conveys the same effervescent glow while alluding to a sunrise. A cursory glance at the dictionary's definition of afterglow confirms that it is explicitly associated with the period after the sun has set.

One word which seems to convey the intended meaning is foreglow, which appears to describe precisely the glow of light appearing in the sky preceding sunrise. Although I tend to lean towards this word, I am unsure, however, if it may be considered esoteric and could potentially perplex native speakers.

May a perspicacious native speaker confirm whether these terms can be used to describe the glow of a sunrise?

Personally, if I were asked spontaneously without consulting a thesaurus, I would use the word twilight immediately. While the phrase "sunrise twilight" appears in various literary corpora, I would be most obliged to learn of any more precise terms.

P.S. Although dawn, cockcrow, and daybreak do indicate a specific moment in time, I deem them to be irrelevant to the present discussion.

  • 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
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 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. Commented Nov 5, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 16:04
  • Whatever the denotative meaning of 'gloaming', it is not a word naturally used by anybody. It sounds like some made up word because those are the only letters you have left in Scrabble or some Robert Burns faux-Scottish attempt at poetry. 'Dawn' is a normal word that people use that means light at sunrise and has all the metaphorical connotations you're expecting.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 13:45
  • While I agree with you that 'gloaming' is far from being a commonplace colloquial word, I'd also argue that it is still a legit literary word occasionally used in essays or articles: ludwig.guru/s/gloaming. Also, it can be found in the contemporary literature. For instance, here is an excerpt from the novel Infinite Jest: 'that he’d lumbered out of the bedroom in just jeans and belt out to the gloaming living room'. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 19:32

4 Answers 4


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.

  • All usage is historical. OED is a 'historical dictionary', giving the lifespan of obsolete as well as current words and senses in the lexicon. It has by far the greatest depth of any Anglic dictionary, though not the breadth of say Wiktionary or Webster III + addenda. // 'Crepuscular' in most environments would draw quizzical (or unappreciative) looks. As would 'zodiacal light'. 'Pre-dawn light' I find far more evocative than you seem to, though it is arguably a contradiction in terms. 'Alpenglow' certainly works for golden or rosy examples. Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 13:05

Gleaming seems to be the opposite gloaming.

M-W gives the verb:

1 : to shine with or as if with subdued steady light or moderate brightness
2 : to appear briefly or faintly a light gleamed in the distance

As well as the noun gleam with this example:

1 a : a transient appearance of subdued or partly obscured light
the gleam of dawn in the east

  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
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    Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 20:22
  • Hi anon, while I've tried to help with a definition and its source, it's up to you to justify your answer. I encourage you to see the help center.
    – livresque
    Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 23:24

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
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 12:26

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