The word alight has two distinct meanings: it can mean coming down or settling in a delicate manner, such as a bird perching, or it can be a rather poetic way to describe something that’s on fire (or “afire”).

Just as the word alight has two distinct grammatical forms and meanings, it has two distinct beginnings in the Old English. That period’s word ālīhtan had an original meaning of dismounting, or lightening the load on the horse, and so is the ancestor of the verb we use today that means "to settle or perch." Meanwhile, the word onlīhtan (see the different spelling?) of that same time meant to be on fire, which became our adjectival use of the word.

Primary Meanings of alight

come to rest; settle
lighted up by or as by fire or flame
Full Definitions of alight

v come to rest; settle

light, perch
Type of:
land, set down
reach or come to rest

v come down

“the birds alighted
climb down
Type of:
come down, descend, fall, go down
move downward and lower, but not necessarily all the way

adj lighted up by or as by fire or flame

“candles alight on the tables”
ablaze, afire, aflame, aflare, on fire
lighted, lit
set afire or burning

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