burn the midnight oil

burn the midnight oil

Meaning

  • work long hours and hard
  • to be working until late in the night
  • to work very hard and for long hours into the night
  • staying awake in the night either studying, reading or working

Example Sentences

  1. It is very very hard assignment, and I had to burn the midnight oil to get it completed on time.
  2. The assignment was very lengthy so she was forced to burn the midnight oil to get it done on time.
  3. My brother has a big exam next week so he is already burning the midnight oil. I keep advising him to take it slow.
  4. The assignment is to be submitted first thing in the morning when they get to school so the children are burning the midnight oil

Origin

In 1635, this phrase was used by Francis Quarles in literary work which was a synonym to the word ‘elucubrate’. It literally meant to work by the side of a candle. To burn the mid night oil was the English way of saying that someone was working hard through the night because candles were used in the olden times to provide light at night. The word ‘elucubrate’ was defined in 1623 as doing things by the candlelight.

Recently candles are no longer used as a source of light during the night but the phrase is still popular and has been used in an album by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner.

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B 10 Thoughts

10 Thoughts

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

Ms. 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 last moment”. This does not imply it’s at the last moment. Only that you work hard at night.

- Anonymous July 24, 2020

Reading for long hours into the night

- Anonymous March 5, 2020

Sometimes we will have to burn the midnight oil to resolved on P1 issue.

- Anonymous December 3, 2019

When I was in class 12th, I used to burn the midnight oil.

- Harsh Bharti July 6, 2019

To work late at night

- Yogeshwari July 15, 2018

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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