See more synonyms for lightning on
  1. a brilliant electric spark discharge in the atmosphere, occurring within a thundercloud, between clouds, or between a cloud and the ground.
verb (used without object), light·ninged, light·ning.
  1. to emit a flash or flashes of lightning (often used impersonally with it as subject): If it starts to lightning, we'd better go inside.
  1. of, relating to, or resembling lightning, especially in regard to speed of movement: lightning flashes; lightning speed.

Origin of lightning

1350–1400; Middle English, variant of lightening. See lighten1, -ing1
Can be confusedlightening lightning Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for lightning

fulmination, bolt

Examples from the Web for lightning

Contemporary Examples of lightning

Historical Examples of lightning

  • Often, during a thunderstorm a tree had been hit by lightning.

    Ancient Man

    Hendrik Willem van Loon

  • Andrew went on with his lightning summary of the things he passed.

  • The action is as quick as thought, and thought is as quick as lightning.

  • She looked young to be a doctor, he decided, after that lightning survey.

  • A change swift as lightning had come over me, a sudden exultation.

    Green Mansions

    W. H. Hudson

British Dictionary definitions for lightning


  1. a flash of light in the sky, occurring during a thunderstorm and caused by a discharge of electricity, either between clouds or between a cloud and the earthRelated adjectives: fulgurous, fulminous
  2. (modifier) fast and suddena lightning raid

Word Origin for lightning

C14: variant of lightening
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for lightning

late 13c., present participle of lightnen "make bright," extended form of Old English lihting, from leht (see light (n.)). Meaning "cheap, raw whiskey" is attested from 1781, also sometimes "gin." Lightning bug is attested from 1778. Lightning rod from 1790.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

lightning in Science


  1. A flash of light in the sky caused by an electrical discharge between clouds or between a cloud and the Earth's surface. The flash heats the air and usually causes thunder. Lightning may appear as a jagged streak, as a bright sheet, or in rare cases, as a glowing red ball.
A Closer Look: As storm clouds develop, the temperature at the top of the cloud becomes much cooler than that at the bottom. For reasons that scientists still do not understand, this temperature difference results in the accumulation of negatively charged particles near the base and positively charged particles near the top of the storm cloud. The negatively charged particles repel the electrons of atoms in nearby objects, such as the bases of other storm clouds or tall objects on the ground. Consequently, these nearby objects take on a positive charge. The difference in charge, or voltage, builds until an electric current starts to flow between the objects along a pathway of charged atoms in the air. The current flow heats up the air to such a degree that it glows, generating lightning. Initially, a bolt of lightning carrying a negative charge darts from one storm cloud to another or from a storm cloud to the ground, leaving the bottom of the cloud with a positive charge. In response, a second bolt (reverse lightning) shoots in the opposite direction (from the other storm cloud or the ground) as the mass of negative charges on it moves back to neutralize the positive charge on the bottom of the first cloud. The heat generated by the lightning causes the air to expand, in turn creating very large sound waves, or thunder.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

lightning in Culture


An electrical discharge from clouds that have acquired an electrical charge, usually occurring during storms. (See thunder.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with lightning


In addition to the idiom beginning with lightning

  • lightning never strikes twice in the same place

also see:

  • like greased lightning
  • quick as a wink (lightning)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.