Definition of volatile in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈvälədl/


1(Of a substance) easily evaporated at normal temperatures.
Example sentences
  • Other substances used in volatile substance abuse are solvents, which comprise one of the other areas the Minister wants examined.
  • Even small amounts of gasoline or other volatile fuels or solvents mixed with kerosene can substantially increase the risk of a fire or an explosion.
  • In fact, all volatile substances are potentially narcotics.
evaporative, vaporous;
explosive, inflammable;
unstable, labile
2Liable to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse: the political situation was becoming more volatile
More example sentences
  • Nevertheless, the upside from oil prices is offset by their future unpredictability, with the volatile movements of this one global commodity determining how earnings may change.
  • As ordinary life becomes more volatile, insecure and unpredictable in various ways, people search for security in whatever ways they can muster.
  • The challenging nature of this scenario reflects the unpredictable and volatile world we live in, as well as the nature of our job.
tense, strained, fraught, uneasy, uncomfortable, charged, explosive, inflammatory, turbulent
informal nail-biting, ready to blow
2.1(Of a person) liable to display rapid changes of emotion.
Example sentences
  • Born in 1626 in Smyrna, Turkey, he was by all accounts a brilliant, charismatic if emotionally volatile man.
  • He may exercise professional restraint but in his formative years he was used to exhibiting a more volatile personality.
  • But this club, which has a strong lineup, improved rotation and deeper bullpen, is full of sometimes volatile personalities.
unpredictable, changeable, variable, inconstant, inconsistent, erratic, irregular, unstable, turbulent, blowing hot and cold, varying, shifting, fluctuating, fluid, mutable;
mercurial, capricious, whimsical, fickle, flighty, impulsive, temperamental, high-strung, excitable, emotional, fiery, moody, tempestuous
2.2(Of a computer’s memory) retaining data only as long as there is a power supply connected.
Example sentences
  • When a compromised system is powered off, important information or evidence stored in volatile memory may be lost.
  • It just so happens that adding charge is one of the requirements of volatile memory, like DRAM.
  • These attacks attempt to gain access to the secrets stored in volatile and non-volatile memories.


(usually volatiles)
A volatile substance.
Example sentences
  • Methyl acetate had the highest mean peak height of the selected volatiles, followed by acetic acid and then acetaldehyde.
  • Although the RAS gave off higher concentrations of volatiles than those measured in the nosespace analysis, the ratios of flavour compounds were similar.
  • Several chemical techniques will detect explosives or their volatiles even at the trace levels found in and above the soil where they are buried.


Middle English (in the sense 'creature that flies', also, as a collective, 'birds'): from Old French volatil or Latin volatilis, from volare 'to fly'.

  • This was first used as a noun meaning a ‘creature that flies’, and it was also a collective word for ‘birds’. It derives from Old French volatil from Latin volare ‘to fly’. The association of the word with temperament is found from the mid 17th century, and with liquids that evaporate quickly by the later 17th. The flying shot called a volley (late 16th century) comes from the same source.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: vol·a·tile

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