Lightening or Lightning?

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
What is the difference between lightening and lightning?

Lightening means to make something lighter (in colour or weight).
  • I'm lightening the bathroom with the leftover white paint.
Lightning is the flash of light followed by thunder during a storm.
  • Did you see that fork of lightning?

Lightening or Lightning?

Writers are often confused between lightening and lightning due to their similar sounds and spellings.


The word lightening comes from the verb to lighten. It means to make something paler in color () / colour () or to reduce something in weight.

  • I had to throw away my dress after my failed attempt at lightening it.
  • Lightening the sacks will help us move the corn more quickly.
You will also see lightening being used figuratively. For example:
  • Making jokes is my brother's way of lightening the mood.
(Note: Lightening is the present participle of the verb to lighten.)


The noun lightning is often seen in the term thunder and lightning. In other words, lightning denotes a flash of light caused by the discharge of electricity in the atmosphere.

  • Thunder is good. Thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work. (Mark Twain)
  • Electricity is really just organized lightning. (George Carlin)
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose?
What are nouns? Jewelry and jewellery List of easily confused words