Can’t Hold a Candle to Idiom Meaning

Can’t hold a candle to is an expression used to mean that someone or something is inferior in comparison with another individual or thing. It may have its origin in apprentices holding candles so master workers could view their work more easily.

Example: Although I appreciate the new Batman season, it simply cannot live up to its predecessor.

Table of Contents


The phrase, “Can’t hold a candle to”, denotes something or someone is inferior in comparison with another object or person. Dating back to 1600s and still widely used today to compare abilities or performance between people or things, often in relation to work or performance comparison. This article will explore its meaning as well as where and when this idiom originated as well as examples of its usage in sentences.

Its exact origin remains unclear; however, it could have its roots in apprenticeship practices in which apprentices held candles so master workers could observe what they were doing. Anyone unable to perform this simple task was considered worthless. Additionally, theatrical performances often involved using candles; non-actors unfamiliar with roads or theater layout were known as “link-boys,” who were incapable of holding up candles as required by other actors in performance.

As the phrase can’t hold a candle to indicates, today it is often used to refer to someone or something that falls short in comparison with something else. For instance, movie sequels are often held up against their predecessors and their sequel just doesn’t measure up;


When someone says that something cannot hold a candle to someone else, they are making an indirect comparison between two entities. It is thought that this term originated during pre-electricity days when people used candles as light sources; apprentices would often provide light for more experienced workmen so they could see what they were doing; if an apprentice were unable to provide this support they would be considered incapable and incompetent.

Today, this phrase can be used to refer to anything that doesn’t meet expectations; often used to refer to people but also car and restaurant comparisons. You might say something like your friend’s car can’t match yours for acceleration; or you could say the restaurant didn’t match up to one you went with your ex-partner.

This phrase can be found throughout English literature, including books and magazines. Additionally, it’s often seen used in popular culture – for instance Dolly Parton’s song Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You was an iconic rendition from 1980-07. As using an idiom can sometimes be intimidating or confusing for some individuals, it is vitally important to first gain an understanding of its origins so you can use it confidently when speaking in conversation.


The expression ‘Can’t Hold A Candle To’ denotes something or someone being inferior in comparison with another thing or person. It is usually used negatively – for instance a movie sequel cannot match up to its predecessor; or you might use this term when comparing skills between people, such as when you compare John with Louise on singing abilities; its origin remains uncertain, however; likely connected to apprentices holding candles for master workers before electric lights became widespread.

This allowed an apprentice to watch and assist a master with their work, thus increasing productivity. Since then, however, this phrase has come to signify someone or something is not as competent or skilled. It is widely used and can be applied in numerous scenarios; often seen as negative but used for anything from descriptions of people’s behaviour to commenting about an event.


Accent Pros’ clients hail from all around the globe and often struggle to understand American idioms and colloquialisms when spoken by native American speakers. Today we will examine one such phrase that often gets misinterpreted but may come in handy: “can’t hold a candle to”.

This idiom refers to someone or something being inferior in quality or desirableness to another. This phrase is typically used when comparing abilities or skills, such as when one compares an older computer model with newer models; but can also refer to people, as when a potential romantic interest compares themselves against previous partners and it becomes clear that “she doesn’t hold a candle to him”.

The phrase has its roots in apprentices lighting master workers’ work by holding candles up. If someone cannot even compare with another in terms of skill and talent, it suggests they do not deserve consideration as potential employees.