burn the candle at both the ends

burn the candle at both the ends


  • exhaust someone’s energies or resources by leading a hectic life
  • to engage in an activity, usually work related, from early morning until late at night
  • to work so hard that you don’t rest
  • to spend all of your energy on two pursuits at the same time

Example Sentences

  1. Since starting my new job I have been burning the candle at both ends.
  2. Working and studying at the same time has led to me having to burn the candle at both ends.
  3. She has been burning the candle at both ends by doing a full-time job and preparing for her International English Language Test exams.
  4. My younger daughter is obsessed with becoming a painter, that is why she is burning the candle at both ends nowadays.
  5. To finish this massive work, we must have to burn the candle at both ends.


The idiom was translated from French in 1611. It can be found in Randal Cotgrave’s dictionary. Initially the idiom meant that one was dissipating one’s wealth. Meaning that you were causing your money to disappear. This is because candles were expensive and burning them cost money. If you were burning the candle at both ends you were being wasteful. You would also have to hold the candle horizontally, leading to the wax dripping off and being wasted.

The idiom has since taken on a different meaning. Both ends refer to the end and beginning of the day. If you have to light a candle then we assume it is dark outside. Thus, if you burn it in the morning you are up before the sun and if you burn it at night it is already dark when you finish.

The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay used the image in her poem “Figs from Thistles: First Fig” published in 1918.

“My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – It gives a lovely light.”

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1 Comment

AuthorSteven McGlinn writes on 12th January 2017

Where did this expression originate?

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