Lightning, Lightening

Why Lightening Cannot Harm You but Lightning Can

by Owen Fourie

Watch out! Lightening strikes are becoming more frequent on the Internet.

It is a good thing that lightening strikes are not physically dangerous. Their worst effect is that they can hurt your grades, and they do reveal your lack of distinction between the two words lightning and lightening.

This article is intended for your enlightenment and to help you to use these words correctly.

Lightening helps

What is lightening?

As a verb, lightening is

  • making something less heavy;
  • lifting a burden of trouble from someone’s mind and heart to make that person glad and cheerful.

As a noun, lightening refers to

  • a process of changing something to a lighter color;
  • a late stage of pregnancy in which many women find it easier to breathe as the baby’s head enters its mother’s pelvis and pressure on the diaphragm is reduced.

There are definitely no lightening strikes here.

Lightning hurts

What is lightning?

As a noun, lightning is the flash of light that occurs in thunderstorms. A discharge of electricity within a cloud or between a cloud and the ground produces this effect.

“According to the National Weather Service, lightning causes an average of 62 deaths and 300 injuries in the United States each year.”

As an adjective, lightning may be used to describe the great speed by which some action may be accomplished: The lightning swoop of the Peregrine Falcon caught the pigeon unawares.

Lightning can enlighten

Benjamin Franklin (1706—1790), the American polymath and one of the founding fathers of the United States, is popularly believed to have flown a kite, with a metal key attached to it, in a thunderstorm to prove that a lightning bolt carries an electrical charge.

Today, many are dismissing the popular account as a myth for the simple reason that Benjamin Franklin would not have put himself in so great a danger.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, we have to agree that he was amongst the first to prove that lightning is a form of electricity. His experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod for the protection of people and buildings.

In the mid-18th century, these were new concepts, but now we can see that lightning did enlighten Benjamin Franklin and other scientists.

You know now, as Benjamin Franklin knew then, that lightning can hurt you, and you also know that lightening cannot harm you.


Are you aware of other word pairs where one word is frequently and incorrectly used for the other? Mention them here for discussion. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

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