Definition of volatile in English:



  • 1(of a substance) easily evaporated at normal temperatures.

    ‘volatile solvents such as petroleum ether, hexane, and benzene’
    • ‘Carbon dioxide, water, and other volatile substances are believed to have been degassed from the Earth in its early history of formation and cooling.’
    • ‘Some patients can benefit from other techniques, including topical capsaicin and topical application of aspirin suspended in a volatile substance such as acetone.’
    • ‘In fact, all volatile substances are potentially narcotics.’
    • ‘He said he wanted to support the fund, especially their vital work in schools raising awareness about volatile substance abuse.’
    • ‘The first water would have contained the more volatile substances, which would have evaporated first; the second water contained the ones more difficult to vaporise.’
    • ‘Inhalant abuse is defined as the intentional inhalation of a volatile substance in order to achieve euphoria.’
    • ‘For substances with lower boiling points than water, heating can be used to drive off the more volatile substance, which can then be collected by condensing it.’
    • ‘He added: ‘With children playing Russian roulette with their lives it is no longer tenable to ignore volatile substance abuse.’’
    • ‘This method works quite well for many gases and volatile liquids, but it cannot be used for substances that decompose on heating, such as urea.’
    • ‘The detection of some volatile substances in blood does not in itself indicate inhalant abuse or even occupational exposure to these chemicals.’
    • ‘A bad environment filled with sandy wind, powder, dust, or volatile chemicals in the air can be dangerous for contact lens wearers.’
    • ‘Some volatile substances can reduce sinoatrial node automaticity and suppress cardiac conduction.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Other substances used in volatile substance abuse are solvents, which comprise one of the other areas the Minister wants examined.’
    • ‘By the nature of the practice, volatile substance abusers repeatedly expose themselves to far higher doses of compounds than could be given during volunteer studies.’
    • ‘Another is to release the volatile substance allicin, which irritates the eyes.’
    • ‘He suggested that the volatile substances from these aromatic species appeared to be responsible for inhibiting growth of plants as far as 27 feet away.’
    • ‘Ironically, the alarming discovery of the glue bags comes just a few months after a major campaign in Bradford schools to warn against the dangers of volatile substance abuse.’
    • ‘But the practice of inhaling fumes from volatile substances is not generally associated with affluence and success.’
    • ‘A national charity warned today that deaths from sniffing volatile substances in the region shot up from five to ten over a year.’
    evaporative, vaporous, vaporescent
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  • 2Liable to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse.

    ‘the political situation was becoming more volatile’
    • ‘A market with large swings in price is generally considered highly volatile and, hence, unpredictable.’
    • ‘They were then sold personal pensions which relied on volatile and unpredictable investment performance to pay pensions.’
    • ‘She was a fascinating speaker who was able to explain in the simplest of terms the huge complexities of Iraq and the dangers of upsetting the power balance in that volatile region.’
    • ‘Prices on last minute airfare can be highly volatile so try to book in advance.’
    • ‘The situation was highly volatile - as alliances between the states shifted, so did the loyalty of citizens to their government of the day.’
    • ‘A well-planned strategy will help the network grow, whereas a brash evaluation could stunt an economy that has so far advanced at a fast but volatile rate.’
    • ‘All in all, this is a deeply disturbing and volatile situation with highly uncertain outcomes.’
    • ‘The challenging nature of this scenario reflects the unpredictable and volatile world we live in, as well as the nature of our job.’
    • ‘Anyone in a tracker fund now has their wealth concentrated in a much narrower range of shares, many of which are likely to be highly volatile.’
    • ‘But it has made international affairs a volatile and unpredictable realm.’
    • ‘As ordinary life becomes more volatile, insecure and unpredictable in various ways, people search for security in whatever ways they can muster.’
    • ‘Small to medium businesses are dynamic, but they're also volatile.’
    • ‘In this view, the danger is so unpredictable and volatile that we must act immediately rather than waiting to act only as a last resort.’
    • ‘But since this market is volatile and unpredictable, no guarantees are possible.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Wall Street resumed business yesterday and managed to avoid the worst scenario of a collapse of share prices despite highly volatile trading conditions.’
    • ‘Reports already indicated that sales figures were very volatile, even when the growth was still brisk.’
    • ‘The problem was signalling this shift in emphasis to volatile markets without setting off a panic-inducing crash in the currency markets.’
    • ‘The only evidence for this is circumstantial: there was no civil war and he was in power at a volatile time.’
    • ‘Cooperatives will need the ability to handle surprises, because the economy and world events will remain volatile and unpredictable for a long time to come.’
    tense, strained, fraught, uneasy, uncomfortable, charged, explosive, eruptive, inflammatory, turbulent, in turmoil, full of upheavals
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    1. 2.1 (of a person) liable to display rapid changes of emotion.
      ‘a passionate, volatile young man’
      • ‘With his low-key approach to the part, he manages to submerge his highly visible, volatile personality.’
      • ‘Just imagine what will happen when there are disagreements, which could happen often between these strong-willed, volatile men.’
      • ‘One friend pointed out that the prospect of gathering her own rather volatile family into one small room for three hours, let alone three days, was a total nightmare.’
      • ‘Plato remarks in The Republic that bad characters are volatile and interesting, whereas good characters are dull and always the same.’
      • ‘If she's volatile, puts you down or insists on having her way, she's not a good candidate for best friend material.’
      • ‘The family moved often, following the schooling and whims of his volatile father, a doctor.’
      • ‘I had some very volatile neighbors who liked to fight late, late at night.’
      • ‘He's volatile, doesn't tolerate fools and is built like a front rower.’
      • ‘Though generally perceived to be an energetic and volatile character, he has yet to show anything but easy charm in dealings with Scottish journalists.’
      • ‘This is not an unheard-of phenomenon, by the way, with certain volatile personalities who work together.’
      • ‘But this club, which has a strong lineup, improved rotation and deeper bullpen, is full of sometimes volatile personalities.’
      • ‘As was shown above, the foreign secretary was acutely aware of the ‘enormous potency’ of the Kaiser's volatile personality.’
      • ‘He was volatile, and maybe that's just what the sport needed, because it brought a lot of non-bowling viewers into the sport via TV.’
      • ‘She looked up at him in fear, but didn't pull her hand away, knowing it would only make things worse in this already extremely volatile man.’
      • ‘Born in 1626 in Smyrna, Turkey, he was by all accounts a brilliant, charismatic if emotionally volatile man.’
      • ‘He's a really volatile guy and I'm kinda scared by it.’
      • ‘Throughout their careers, the volatile brothers have courted controversy and rarely been out of the celebrity gossip pages.’
      • ‘She said she could no longer cope with her volatile husband who was bringing his obsessive drive for golfing perfection home.’
      • ‘He may exercise professional restraint but in his formative years he was used to exhibiting a more volatile personality.’
      • ‘Her well-documented problems with her volatile father may be in the past, and she took time to thank him in her acceptance speech, but he is stilled banned from attending her matches.’
      unpredictable, changeable, variable, inconstant, inconsistent, uncertain, erratic, irregular, unstable, turbulent, unsteady, unsettled, unreliable, undependable, changing, ever-changing, varying, shifting, fluctuating, fluid, mutable, protean, fitful, wavering, full of ups and downs
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  • 3(of a computer's memory) retaining data only as long as there is a power supply connected.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Owing to the volatile nature of DRAM memory, a DRAM SSD requires its own power supply, cooling fan and disk backup for data retention.’
    • ‘When a compromised system is powered off, important information or evidence stored in volatile memory may be lost.’
    • ‘Manufacturers switched to cheaper, volatile SRAM and DRAM solutions in the early '80s.’


usually volatiles
  • A volatile substance.

    • ‘Ethylene has also been shown to be important in the production of aroma volatiles in Charentais melon fruit, as antisense suppression of ethylene production results in strong inhibition of aroma.’
    • ‘Development of similar procedures for the analysis of other volatiles is dependent on several factors including the properties of the compound to be analyzed.’
    • ‘The researchers sampled gases, or volatiles, discharged from the volcanoes, and analyzed the nitrogen and helium compositions to trace their sources.’
    • ‘There will be more high notes and volatiles in the new extracts that will increase the coffee flavor quality.’
    • ‘Although long-term abuse of volatiles is rare, progression to alcohol and/or illicit drug use is well known and some people, notably those with occupational access to abusable compounds, may continue to use volatiles for many years.’
    • ‘Non-metallics, adhesives, and lubricants are particularly susceptible to outgassing volatiles that may deposit a residue onto nearby surfaces.’
    • ‘The exceptions are cannabinoids and volatiles.’
    • ‘Using vacuum headspace distillation they isolated volatiles from 20 kg of raw onions and then used solid phase extraction and preparative capillary gas chromatography to obtain 10g of the key compound.’
    • ‘Methyl acetate had the highest mean peak height of the selected volatiles, followed by acetic acid and then acetaldehyde.’
    • ‘A few correlations were significant between aroma volatiles and other chemical traits.’
    • ‘Several chemical techniques will detect explosives or their volatiles even at the trace levels found in and above the soil where they are buried.’
    • ‘Ripening involves production of a number of fruit volatiles, but ethanol is perhaps the only olfactory commonality to an otherwise bewildering taxonomic array of angiosperm fruits.’
    • ‘Studies of layering in individual lava flows suggest that rising volatiles may effect mass transfer of complexed ions during differentiation in magma chambers.’
    • ‘It is specifically designed to measure volatiles, such as water and organic molecules, in the northern polar region of Mars.’
    • ‘Once it lands, the mission is designed to last for three months, during which time it will look for and measure volatiles, such as water and organic molecules.’
    • ‘Contributions to total vapor pressure of non-ethanol volatiles are ignored.’
    • ‘Although the RAS gave off higher concentrations of volatiles than those measured in the nosespace analysis, the ratios of flavour compounds were similar.’
    • ‘In contrast, predators that had been reared on spider mites on cucumber and thus had experienced a qualitatively different odor blend were not attracted to volatiles from caterpillar-infested bean plants.’
    • ‘The volatiles, after passing through a condenser, are finally captured in liquid form at the top of the column while the stripped liquid is pumped out the bottom of the column.’
    • ‘Many insects choose certain tree species - for feeding and laying eggs - based on aromatic chemicals, called volatiles, that the trees produce.’


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