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I’ve heard this at least thrice: we are not supposed to turn on the lights or turn them off. We are supposed to switch on or switch off the lights.

The theory behind the admonition sounds logical, particularly if there is no knob to turn. After all, most of our light panels—often called light switches—have toggles that we flick up or down, or side to side, for illumination.

Yet the dictionaries disagree. It is perfectly fine to turn on or turn off the lights or any other electronic device. Perhaps because devices have different controls—pull chains, pull cords, levers, dials, buttons, valves, dimmers, toggles, knobs—the verb phrases turn on and switch on now mean the same thing:

1. turn on (something) or turn (something) on : to cause (something) to work or flow by pressing a button, moving a switch, etc.; to start the flow of electricity, gas, water, etc. by moving a switch, button, etc.

2. turn off (something) or turn (something) off : to stop the operation or flow of (something) by pressing a button, moving a switch, etc.; to stop the flow of electricity, gas, water, etc. by moving a switch, button, etc.

  • She turned off the alarm/heat/lights/water. [Learner’s Dictionary]
  • Should I leave the TV on or turn it off?
  • to turn off the light
  • They’ve turned off the water while they repair a burst pipe.
  • Please turn the television off before you go to bed. [Oxford Advanced American Dictionary]

3. switch on (something) or switch (something) on : to turn on (something) by turning or pushing a button or moving a switch, lever, etc.; to turn a light, machine, etc. on by pressing a button or switch

4. switch off (something) or switch (something) off : to turn off (something) by turning or pushing a button or moving a switch, lever, etc.; to turn a light, machine, etc. on by pressing a button or switch

Photo credit: Get ‘Move On!

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3 thoughts on “Turn on the light

  1. Art and Myling, I suppose it is! :) I’ll post sometime this week an interesting discussion on “opening” the light. Wait for it! :)

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