'Lightning' vs 'Lightening': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on July 17, 2023

‘Lightning’ vs ‘Lightening’: What’s the Difference? We add in a letter, and all of a sudden, we have two entirely different words. While this may seem obvious, if you skim over these words too quickly or hear them pronounced unclearly, you may miss what word is actually being used. This article will be a lesson not only in vocabulary but in the importance of being careful and purposeful with language as well. 

In a hurry? Here is a short overview of what’s to come: 

  • ‘Lightning’ is the natural phenomenon of an electric discharge in a storm
  • ‘Lightening’ is the gerund form of the word ‘Lighten,’ which means to make less heavy

What’s the Difference Between ‘Lightning’ vs ‘Lightening’?

So what’s the difference between these two words? Honestly, a better question is what’s similar, other than the spelling, of course. Fortunately, these two new words have very little in common, so they are slightly easier to learn. 

  • First of all, ‘Lightning’ is a noun referring to a natural scientific occurrence, meaning it is a thing rather than an action.
  • Meanwhile, ‘Lightening’ or ‘Lighten’ is a verb meaning to lose weight or become lighter. 

For example:

  • A flash of ‘Lightning’ can ‘Lighten’ up the sky. This is likely the only scenario in which you would see these words together. 

Another way to think about the difference between these words is to think of speed. ‘Lightning’ can also refer to quickness, which you can think of in terms of saying the word. Since ‘Lightning’ doesn’t have the extra “e” that ‘Lightening’ does, it can be pronounced quicker. While this is not a fool-proof way of thinking, it can help in a pinch when using tricks to remember definitions. 

But what are these definitions exactly? Let’s take a closer look at the actual meanings of ‘Lightning’ vs ‘Lightening.’ 

Definition of ‘Lightning’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Lightning’ is a noun that means: 

  • 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” 
  • A flash or discharge of lightning (literary)
    • “the sky was a mass of black cloud out of which lightnings flashed.”

As an adjective, ‘Lightning’ can also mean: 

  • Very quick
    • “a lightning cure for his hangover”

Synonyms for ‘Lightning’

  • Electrical discharge
  • Fulmination
  • Streak
  • Flash
  • Thunderbolt
  • Fireball
  • Fulgurant
  • Fulgurous
  • Speedy
  • Quick

Antonyms for ‘Lightning’

  • Slow
  • Sluggish
  • Sloth-like

Phrases with ‘Lightning’

  • At lightning speed
  • Lightning flash
  • Lightning storm
  • Heat lightning
  • Lightning strike
  • Lightning never strikes twice
  • Fast as lightning
  • Thunder and lightning

Definition of ‘Lightening’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Lightening’ is the gerund form of ‘Lighten’, which is a verb that means: 

  • Make or become lighter in weight, pressure, or severity
    • “efforts to lighten the burden of regulation”
  • Make or become more cheerful and less serious
    • “she attempted a joke to lighten the atmosphere.”
  • Make or become lighter or brighter 
    • “the sky began to lighten in the east.”
  • Enlighten spiritually (archaic)
    • “Now the Lord lighten thee; thou art a great fool.”

‘Lightening’ can also be a noun which means: 

  • A drop in the level of the uterus during the last weeks of pregnancy as the head of the fetus engages in the pelvis

This last term is much less commonly used and typically only heard in medical contexts. 

Synonyms of ‘Lightening’/’Lighten’

  • Brightening
  • Gleaming
  • Illuminating
  • Encouraging
  • Reassuring
  • Refreshing
  • Soothing
  • Relieving
  • Abating

Antonyms for ‘Lightening’/’Lighten’

  • Dulling
  • Burdening
  • Blackening
  • Dimming
  • Depressing
  • Aggravating
  • Dispiriting
  • Upsetting

Phrases with ‘Lightening’/’Lighten’

  • Lightening up
  • Lighten the mood
  • Enlightening 

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Lightning’ vs ‘Lightening’ 

Arguably, the greatest key to distinguishing the words aloud is the way you pronounce them. Of course, context is important as well and will help others distinguish what you’re talking about, but if you speed through these words their meaning might get lost. Below you’ll find the best way to pronounce these new words for clarity. 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Lightning’ as a guide:

  • ‘Lyt-ning’ (with the second syllable pronounced quickly)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Lightening’ as a guide: 

  • ‘Ly-teh-ning’ (notice the difference being an exaggerated third syllable)

The main phonetic difference is the separation of that extra third syllable in ‘Lightening,’ but be aware that most people, when speaking at a normal conversational pace, won’t overly annunciate that syllable, so you have to be careful. 

How to Use ‘Lightning’ vs ‘Lightening’ in a Sentence

One of the best ways to learn the difference between new words is to see how they function in a real-world context. An easy way to see this in action is through example sentences that cover a variety of scenarios, like the ones you’ll see here. An important thing to note as well here is the spelling and how crucial it is to match the correct spelling to the correct context. 

‘Lightning’ Example Sentences

  • While the lightning flash was surprising, what really scared her was the loud crash of thunder that followed. 
  • The kids were disappointed when the pool closed early due to lightning seen in the distance. 
  • While the rabbit moved at a lightning pace, the turtle proved that slow and steady wins the race. 
  • The contestant hit the buzzer at lightning speed because she immediately knew the answer to the question. 

‘Lightening’ Example Sentences

  • The team had to get up so early they couldn’t even see the sky lightening yet for sunrise. 
  • The teacher was lightening the class's mood with free play time after their big tests. 
  • He claimed his visit to the Vatican City was an enlightening experience where he swore he talked to an angel. 
  • After a rather serious meeting, my coworker tried lightening things up with free donuts in the break room. 

Final Advice on ‘Lightning’ vs ‘Lightening’

Similar words can be the trickiest to learn because they are easy to mix up. Thankfully, these new words are different enough in meaning and in how they’re used to be pretty easily distinguished. ‘Lightning’ vs ‘Lightening’ does show us though, how much pronunciation and, specifically annunciation matter and how specifying syllables can help keep your speech clear. 

Want to review it? Here is a recap of what was covered:

  • ‘Lightning’ is a noun that refers to a natural electrical charge that causes a bright flash.
  • Meanwhile, ‘Lightening’ is the gerund form of the word ‘Lighten’, which means to make less heavy or less burdensome.

Be sure to check out more confusing words to help expand your vocabulary and make the most out of all your conversations and academic assignments.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.