hold a candle to, cannot/not fit to

can't hold a candle to someone

Fig. not [to be] equal to someone; unable to measure up to someone. (Also with cannot.) Mary can't hold a candle to Ann when it comes to athletics. As for singing, John can't hold a candle to Jane.
See also: candle, hold

cannot hold a candle to

be nowhere near as good as. informal
In the 16th century, an assistant would literally hold a candle to his superior by standing beside him with a candle to provide enough light for him to work by. The modern version suggests that the subordinate is so far inferior that he is unfit to perform even this humble task.
See also: candle, cannot, hold

hold a candle to, cannot/not fit to

To be vastly inferior to someone. Holding a candle for someone else was already considered a menial task in the sixteenth century. “Who that worst maie, shall holde the candell” appeared in John Heywood’s 1546 collection of proverbs, and “I be not worthy to hold a candle to Aristotle,” wrote Sir Edward Dering (1640). A rhyming example appears in John Byrom’s poetic account, On the Feud between Handel and Bononcini (1773): “Others aver that he to Handel is scarcely fit to hold the candle.”
See also: candle, cannot, fit, hold, not
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