The phrase "can't hold a candle to" is commonly used when comparing two entities, where one is deemed inferior to the other. It expresses the idea that someone or something doesn't measure up to another's quality, value, or skill. By saying, "can't hold a candle too," you imply that there is a stark difference in quality between the two subjects being compared.
The idiom "can't hold a candle to" is used when making comparisons, describing that one person or thing is inferior to another. The phrase has an undertone of inadequacy or subpar quality. If you say something "can't hold a candle to" something else, it means it is not as good, efficient, or effective.
Here are some essential points about its meanings and usage:
The idiom is rooted in the 17th century when apprentices were expected to hold the candle so that more experienced workers could see their work without electric lighting. If an apprentice was not even qualified to hold the candle, it meant they were far from being as skilled or experienced as the person they were assisting.
"But for all that, he can't hold a candle to our Deacon Mabee."
- Tales of Glauber-Spa, 1832
"Miss Marna and Miss Victory, he thinks that you are both very fine, but that you can't hold a candle to Miss Hope for looks. Excuse me for being plain - it's my way."
- Victoire: A Novel, 1864
"'Yes,' said Donald, 'she is, but she can't hold a candle to you. How did she look when she was your age?'"
- Her Father's Daughter, 1961
To better understand the application of this idiom, let's look at some examples across various contexts:
The phrase "can't hold a candle to" has also found its place in popular culture, generally used to denote quality, value, or skill comparisons.
Let's examine some examples:
There are several other expressions that carry a similar meaning to the phrase.
Here are some alternatives:
The phrase "can't hold a candle to" means that something or someone is clearly less good or less effective than something or someone else.
You can use "can't hold a candle to" to compare two things, where one is superior. For example, "The fitness models on magazine covers with washboard abs can't hold a candle to the dedication and hard work of everyday gym-goers."
This idiom traces back to the times when people used candles for light. A person holding a candle for someone was providing a support role. So, if you couldn't hold a candle to someone, it meant you weren't even fit to be their assistant.
This phrase is more common in informal and conversational contexts, but it can also be used in formal writings or speeches for stylistic purposes.
Yes, you can use it to compare non-tangible things like ideas, experiences, feelings, etc. For example, "His new theory can't hold a candle to the widely accepted principles of physics."
While it's an English expression and most commonly used in English-speaking countries, the phrase is understood by English speakers globally due to its usage in books, films, and other forms of media.
While it's a direct comparison and may highlight the inferiority of one thing or person, it's not generally considered rude or offensive. However, like any comparison, its appropriateness depends on the context and the relationship between the people involved.
Yes, both phrases highlight a difference in quality or effectiveness, suggesting that one thing or person falls short when compared to another.
While traditionally used to compare two things, the phrase can be adapted to compare multiple items or people, with the understanding that one is superior to all others. For example, "It was no mean feat, but these other designers can't hold a candle to her creative genius."
There isn't a direct positive variant of "can't hold a candle to." However, phrases such as "stands out from," "is a cut above," or "is superior to" can be used to positively highlight something's superiority over others.
The phrase "can't hold a candle to" is a way to express that something is inferior to something else. Drawing from a time when candles were the main light source, the image underscores a shortfall in comparison. Essentially, the compared person or object doesn't meet the standard set by another.
Here's a quick recap: