[vol-uh-tl, -til or, esp. British, -tahyl]
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  1. evaporating rapidly; passing off readily in the form of vapor: Acetone is a volatile solvent.
  2. tending or threatening to break out into open violence; explosive: a volatile political situation.
  3. changeable; mercurial; flighty: a volatile disposition.
  4. (of prices, values, etc.) tending to fluctuate sharply and regularly: volatile market conditions.
  5. fleeting; transient: volatile beauty.
  6. Computers. of or relating to storage that does not retain data when electrical power is turned off or fails.
  7. able to fly or flying.
  1. a volatile substance, as a gas or solvent.

Origin of volatile

1250–1300; Middle English < Latin volātilis, equivalent to volāt(us) (past participle of volāre to fly; see -ate1) + -ilis -ile
Related formsvol·a·til·i·ty [vol-uh-til-i-tee] /ˌvɒl əˈtɪl ɪ ti/, vol·a·tile·ness, nounnon·vol·a·til·i·ty, nounsem·i·vol·a·tile, adjectiveun·vol·a·tile, adjective

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for volatility


  1. (of a substance) capable of readily changing from a solid or liquid form to a vapour; having a high vapour pressure and a low boiling point
  2. (of persons) disposed to caprice or inconstancy; fickle; mercurial
  3. (of circumstances) liable to sudden, unpredictable, or explosive change
  4. lasting only a short timevolatile business interests
  5. computing (of a memory) not retaining stored information when the power supply is cut off
  6. obsolete flying or capable of flight; volant
  1. a volatile substance
  2. rare a winged creature
Derived Formsvolatileness or volatility (ˌvɒləˈtɪlɪtɪ), noun

Word Origin for volatile

C17: from Latin volātīlis flying, from volāre to fly
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 volatility



1590s "fine or light," also "evaporating rapidly" (c.1600), from Middle French volatile, from Latin volatilis "fleeting, transitory, flying," from past participle stem of volare "to fly" (see volant). Sense of "readily changing, fickle" is first recorded 1640s. Volatiles in Middle English meant "birds, butterflies, and other winged creatures" (c.1300).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

volatility in Medicine


[vŏlə-tl, -tīl′]
  1. Evaporating readily at normal temperatures and pressures.
  2. That can be readily vaporized.
  3. Tending to violence; explosive, as of behavior.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

volatility in Science


  1. Changing easily from liquid to vapor at normal temperatures and pressures. Essential oils used in perfumes are highly volatile.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.