Definition of lightning in English:



  • 1[mass noun] The 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’
    • ‘He ascended Mount Sinai, enveloped in clouds and thunder and lightning.’
    • ‘Rain battered, lightning flashed and thunder rolled, but everyone nodded into a peaceful sleep after a while.’
    • ‘The cameras could pick up flashes of lightning among the thunderheads.’
    • ‘Already the winds were starting to buffet him and lightning flashed throughout the clouds and stabbed the ground.’
    • ‘Low, dark clouds boiled overhead and lightning flashed and thunder rolled down the mountainside.’
    • ‘A bright fork of lightning struck the clouds ahead, and the outburst of thunder was deafening.’
    • ‘Sheet lightning is just fork lightning that happens within a cloud, or when lightning is partly hidden by clouds.’
    • ‘It was pouring outside and thunder and lightning had accompanied the rain.’
    • ‘A summer shower, again, is accompanied by thunder and lightning, which makes it a rather dangerous customer.’
    • ‘These clouds often bring thunder and lightning, and can also bring funnel clouds or even tornadoes.’
    • ‘So be armed with an umbrella at all times, to enjoy the sunny spell of weather or the occasional drizzle accompanied by thunder and lightning.’
    • ‘Another bright flash of lavender lightning etched the sky, and I shot from my seat at what I saw.’
    • ‘At this a loud crash was heard behind them followed by a bright flash of lightning, lighting up the forest briefly.’
    • ‘A flash of lightning cracked against the clouds, breaking them apart instantly.’
    • ‘Thunder and lightning create some of the most spectacular natural displays to strike the summer skies.’
    • ‘Up ahead were screaming clashes of thunder, and bright flashes of lightning.’
    • ‘They shoot up from the tops of thunderstorms about the same moment lightning discharges within the storm cloud.’
    • ‘Abruptly the storm was quiet for a moment until a bright flash of lightning revealed an enormous wave towering over the ship.’
    • ‘They saw the flashes of lightning within the dark cloud looming ahead of them.’
    • ‘In fact the last hour on the course was played out to the accompaniment of claps of thunder and flashes of lightning, but it stayed dry.’
    1. 1.1literary [count noun]A flash or discharge of lightning.
      ‘the sky was a mass of black cloud out of which lightnings flashed’
      • ‘Accelerators fire big ball lightnings, and these ball lightnings will bounce off the walls and fly about the room chaotically.’
      • ‘The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall jostle one against another in the broad ways: they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘There the Sun shines not, nor the Moon, nor the stars; lightnings shine not there and much less earthly fire.’
      • ‘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.’


  • [attributive] Very quick.

    ‘a lightning cure for his hangover’
    ‘galloping across the country at lightning speed’
    • ‘I like to change the subject at lightning speed, almost as if I never heard their comment.’
    • ‘It has only recently become possible to make a film like this at lightning speed, so that what goes out into the theater isn't out of date.’
    • ‘Alex whipped the sword out with lightning speed before he leapt up and blocked a swift attack.’
    • ‘Like the folk healers of old, Callahan thinks it is his magic that is effecting cures at lightning speed.’
    • ‘Maybe, without the gadgets that make our lives work at lightning speed, people had more time on their hands for long movies.’
    • ‘Then you'll be able to analyze things with lightning speed, and make better, faster decisions.’
    • ‘But now he's opened up his stance a little bit, and his hands are lightning quick on that inside pitch.’
    • ‘It takes up hardly any room in the car and is lightning quick to erect.’
    • ‘Alright, Rich, let's give the readers what they want with a quick lightning round.’
    • ‘Thomas reached up with lightning speed and was suddenly holding a bat.’
    • ‘His golden eyes glinted as he suddenly moved trough the crowd with lightning speed and grabbed a young boy by the collar.’
    • ‘You could see his potential at Birmingham as he was lightning quick, but he didn't work as hard in those days and he would be the first to admit that.’
    • ‘They are both lightning quick, though quite small.’
    • ‘Defenders hate marking someone who is absolutely lightning quick.’
    • ‘Sugar Ray Robinson was known for his strength and lightning speed.’
    • ‘He grinned, lightning quick, an action that lit his face so well that even Sophia's blood pressure spiked.’
    • ‘Roman is lightning quick and improving every day in practice, and Bean showed playmaking ability in the preseason.’
    • ‘Instead he plays Arthur as a terrifying yet avuncular figure, apt to switch from jovial bonhomie to murderous rage with lightning speed.’
    • ‘The girl ran effortlessly through the forest, her movements almost lightning quick as she stalked her prey.’
    • ‘He isn't terribly strong going to his left, nor is he lightning quick.’
    quick, fast, swift, speedy, high-speed, expeditious, express, brisk, lively, prompt, flying, fleeting, lightning, meteoric, overnight, whirlwind, fast-track, whistle-stop
    View synonyms


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.

      • ‘It is said that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.’
      • ‘If not, one could usually reconstruct the correct data from the printed record and the two tapes; without a printed record (sometimes the printer did not work), you punched a third tape and created the data tape for the next session on the principle that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.’
      • ‘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 a myth that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.’
      • ‘There's an old saw that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but in the case of my wife, Annette, and me, it did.’
  • like (greased) lightning

    • Very quickly.

      ‘he leaped over the tailboard of the lorry like greased lightning’
      promptly, immediately, instantly, instantaneously, without delay, post-haste, in a flash, in a trice, in the wink of an eye, in an instant
      rapidly, quickly, fast, speedily, briskly, at high speed, at full tilt, like the wind, like lightning, at breakneck speed, as fast as one's legs can carry one, as swift as an arrow
      View synonyms


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