Definition of lightning in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈlʌɪtnɪŋ/


[mass noun]
1The occurrence of a natural electrical discharge of very short duration and high voltage between a cloud and the ground or within a cloud, accompanied by a bright flash and typically also thunder: a tremendous flash of lightning
More example sentences
  • They shoot up from the tops of thunderstorms about the same moment lightning discharges within the storm cloud.
  • They saw the flashes of lightning within the dark cloud looming ahead of them.
  • Low, dark clouds boiled overhead and lightning flashed and thunder rolled down the mountainside.
1.1 [count noun] literary A flash or discharge of lightning: the sky was a mass of black cloud out of which lightnings flashed
More example sentences
  • And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not seen since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
  • Accelerators fire big ball lightnings, and these ball lightnings will bounce off the walls and fly about the room chaotically.
  • And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.


Very quick: a lightning cure for his hangover galloping across the country at lightning speed
More example sentences
  • Like the folk healers of old, Callahan thinks it is his magic that is effecting cures at lightning speed.
  • Thomas reached up with lightning speed and was suddenly holding a bat.
  • Roman is lightning quick and improving every day in practice, and Bean showed playmaking ability in the preseason.


The form lightning is historically a contracted form of lightening (it was at one time spelled light’ning) but the two forms are now two distinct words. In the sense thunder and lightning and lightning speed, the spelling is always lightning, while in the sense ‘make or become lighter’ the spelling is always lightening.



lightning never strikes twice in the same place

proverb An unusual situation or event is unlikely to happen again in exactly the same circumstances or to the same person.
Example sentences
  • Thinking that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, one year after the incident administrators decided to place the figure back on his pedestal.
  • It is said that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
  • It is a myth that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.

like (greased) lightning

Very quickly: he leaped over the tailboard of the lorry like greased lightning


Middle English: special use of lightening (verbal noun from lighten2).

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: light|ning

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.