burn the midnight oil


burn the midnight oil


  • work late into the night, especially on a project or task.
  • stay up late studying or working diligently.
  • expend considerable effort or energy during the nighttime hours.
  • engage in activities requiring concentration or effort well past normal bedtime.
  • to be industrious or productive late at night, often sacrificing sleep.

Example Sentences

  1. Jenny had to burn the midnight oil to meet the deadline for her presentation.
  2. During exam week, students often burn the midnight oil to cram for their tests.
  3. The team burned the midnight oil to finish the project before the client’s deadline.
  4. As a writer, I often burn the midnight oil while crafting stories long after everyone else has gone to bed.
  5. Entrepreneurs frequently burn the midnight oil to launch their startups, sacrificing sleep for progress.


The idiom “burn the midnight oil” originates from the practice of working late into the night by the light of an oil lamp or candle. This phrase is used figuratively in modern times, alluding to its use before the advent of electric lighting.

The first known reference to ‘the midnight oil’ in print was by the English author Francis Quarles in his work “Emblemes” in 1635. He wrote:

“Wee spend our mid-day sweat, or mid-night oyle; Wee tyre the night in thought; the day in toyle.”

At that time, there was a verb for working late by candlelight: “elucubrate.” Henry Cockeram defined it in his book The English Dictionarie, or an Interpreter of Hard English Words in 1623 as “elucubrate, to do a thing by candlelight.” This word has fallen out of use today.

In 1972, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, both renowned country music artists, collaborated on an album titled “The Right Combination/Burning the Midnight Oil,” which hyped the idiom. The title track suggests a connection to hard work and dedication, which aligns with the meaning of the idiom, implying putting in extra effort late into the night.

Even though it is probably some years since anyone needed to do it in reality, the phrase “burning the midnight oil” is still in everyday use.

Share your opinions8 Opinions

It does not make any sense about the candles. The oil lamp used back then.

‒ Angelo I Leon May 12, 2022

Candles? The cited first instance in 1635 doesn’t say anything about candles. An oil lamp provides more illumination.

‒ Meteor October 18, 2021

The word oil was used in various phrases referring to the use of oil in a lamp for nocturnal study. For example, to lose one’s oil meant to study or labour in vain.

‒ Mel October 11, 2021

The idiom actually came about in the 17th century relating to the burning of oil lamps as a source of light, not candles.

‒ Mel October 11, 2021

Wouldn’t the midnight oil refer to whale oil they used in oil lamps back then and not candles?

‒ Julie December 13, 2020

@Shreya, I hope you’re not a teacher. You are amazingly shortsighted! Your comment assumes this is not a positive sentence because “we are telling children to work late at night at the last moment.” This does not imply it’s at the last moment. Only then do you work hard at night.

‒ Anonymous July 24, 2020

It means reading for long hours into the night.

‒ Anonymous March 5, 2020

Can we have a positive sentence because in these sentences we are telling children to work late at night at last moment?

‒ Shreya October 29, 2017

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