The meaning of the English idiom To burn the candle at both ends with an example of its use.

Meaning of Burning the candle at both ends

This English idiom can mean:

1. To work (or do some other activity) from early in the morning until late at night without taking time (or very little time) to rest.

2. To try and do too much work (or an activity) in a short amount of time with very little rest.

3. To work more than you need to or should do.

4. To overwork without a break.

5. To live at a very fast or hectic pace with pause.

Basically it means you try and do too much and you will likely burn yourself out (= your energy will be completely used up) soon.

When you think of a candle, if you light only one end, it might take 2 hours to burn out completely. But, if you were able to light both ends of the candle where there is a flame at both ends like in the cartoon, then it would take less time to completely burn, maybe only an hour instead of two. So it burns, or is used up, in much less time.

Also, to burn a candle at both ends you would need to have it held horizontally. Doing so the flame will still be going upwards and it would burn directly in the wax, making the candle drip more and burn quicker. You may have twice as much light coming from the candle though it will only last half the time or even less.

Example sentence

A: You look terrible! You should get some sleep.

B: I know. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to get my presentation ready for the meeting on Friday.


How often do you burn the candle at both ends?



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