How would a native speaker find the expression hold a torch to someone in everyday English?


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Are you sure you don't mean . . . hold a candle to . . . ?

eg Tom cannot hold a candle to Fred in running,

meaning that Tom's running is inferior to Fred's.

The phrase sounds to me rather formal and old-fashioned.

Thanks, Clive.


So, am I to understand that hold a candle is a fairly common expression?

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Clive's experience may be different from mine, but I don't find either of these expressions (or their variants) very common at all:

hold a candle to, carry a torch for

I can't even remember the last time I've heard either of them.

Note the importance of the preposition here.

-If you carry/hold a torch FOR someone, you have romantic feelings for that person. It's a fixed idiom

- If you hold a torch TO someone, it sounds like you are trying to set that person on fire - a rather grisly form of murder!

I think I do hear "doesn't hold a candle to" (meaning, as Clive said, that it's far inferior) often enough that it doesn't sound odd. The "carry a torch for" sounds like something from my grandmother's generation.
I'm grateful to all of you!

It's really interesting to see the difference of opinion even among native speakers about an expression and its everyday use.

Thanks again,

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So, am I to understand that hold a candle is a fairly common expression?

I would say it's not unusual in somewhat formal writing. But in everyday speech it is, as I suggested, rather formal and old-fashioned, and thus uncommon.

Hi again,

Yes, I'm carrying a torch for Mary means that you love Mary but she doesn't return your love.

But as GG suggested, it sounds quaint today and even ludicrous. It's a line out of a 1940s film noir.

Best wishes, Clive
I think Clive means it sounds antiquated, not quaint.
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