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What’s the difference between allumer and illuminer?

The French verbs allumer and illuminer are both related to light, but we use them in different contexts. Read on to learn the difference between allumer and illuminer, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.


Il commence à faire nuit, je vais allumer la lumière.

Il y avait une tempête cette nuit-là, les éclairs illuminaient le ciel.


We use the verb allumer to mean:

  • activate a source of light (lamps, candles, etc.)
    Il commence à faire sombre, je vais allumer la lampe.It’s starting to get dark, I’m going to turn on the lamp.
  • turn on or switch on an appliance or device
    Je n’arrive pas à allumer la télévision, la télécommande est cassée.I can’t turn on the TV. The remote control is broken.


The verb illuminer is similar to the English phrasal verb light up; it shares the same literal and figurative meanings:

  • literally: to create a big source of light (positive connotations)
    Le feu d’artifice illuminait la plage.The fireworks lit up the beach.
  • figuratively: a radiant expression
    Son visage fut illuminé par un grand sourire.His face lit up with a big smile.

To learn the conjugations of allumer and illuminer, go to our French Verbs Conjugator. To learn about some other pairs of confusing verbs, check out our pages on écouter/entendre and pouvoir/savoir.