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Lightening vs. Lightning—What’s the Difference?

  • Lightening is the present participle of the verb lighten.
  • Lightning is the electrical discharge that happens during storms.

It’s rare that dropping the letter E can turn a word from mundane to frightening. But that’s what happens when you drop the E from lightening. It stops making things lighter and brighter and it turns into a natural phenomenon many people find scary.

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The Difference Between Lightening and Lightning

Lightening with an “e” is the present participle of the verb lighten. We use the verb lighten in two senses—one has to do with color and the other refers to weight. When we talk about changing the appearance of something by giving it a lighter color, we can say we are lightening it:

Adding mirrors to a room can have a lightening effect.

In the other sense, we can use the verb lighten to say that we are making something less heavy, literally or figuratively:

Paul rushed and picked up the other end of the table, lightening the load for Peter.
Joan spent the night lightening the mood with her jokes.

Lightning is the electrical discharge that happens during an electrical storm. Lightning can occur in a single cloud, between two clouds, or between a cloud and the ground, and if you want to use it in a sentence, you can do it like this:

The town looked spooky at night, and the frequent lightning didn’t make it seem any more appealing.

Lightning vs. Lightening Examples

Though sprites look like red lightning, they’re not lightning at all—rather, they occur above thunderstorms.
Once lightning hits, the electromagnetic waves travel through two copper coils at right angles, inducing a current.
When New York rapper Azealia Banks took to Facebook this month to defend her use of skin-lightening products, she came armed with claims of hypocrisy.
This flying radio could deliver secure communication with greater range and flexibility while lightening the load for troops by reducing the burden of radio carrying.

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