The Meaning of Volatile: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever been confused by the definition of volatile? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word volatile, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word volatile mean?

According to Collins English Dictionary and the American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, the word volatile is an adjective that means likely to change suddenly or unexpectedly, without warning. This sudden change can be literal or figurative depending on the circumstances. Volatile is either pronounced with three or four syllables as vol-a-ti-le or vol-a-tile, and the pronunciation of volatile is vɒlətaɪl. The suffixes ty and ness can be added to volatile to form the related nouns volatility and volatileness. 

The noun volatile can also refer to elements or molecules that have low boiling points that easily evaporate, such as water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and hydrogen. These are capable of readily changing from a solid or liquid form to a form of vapour with high vapour pressure. Volatile can also be used to describe a hardware in computing in which the memory that does not retain stored data when the electrical power supply is disconnected or interrupted. Many things can be volatile with no cogent reason for an explosive change, including a volatile solvent like acetone or some essential oils used in perfumes, volatile chemicals, a volatile gas like methane, volatile political situation, volatile organic compounds, a volatile memory, volatile stocks, volatile emotions, volatile business interests, a volatile temper, volatile vapor pressure, volatile rioters, volatile troops, a volatile confrontation of open violence, a volatile room temperature, volatile fickle friends, and more. Someone with an erratic changeableness would have high volatility and emotions that change at a moment’s notice, while people with low volatility are even-tempered.

Many different languages also contain words that mean volatile. You may notice that some of these translations of volatile look and sound similar to one another. These are called cognates, which are words and phrases in different languages that likely have the same root or language of origin, causing them to sound the same. The below list of translations of volatile is provided by Word Sense

  •  Spanish: volátil‎
  •  Greek: πτητικός‎ (masc.)
  •  Japanese: 揮発性‎ (きはつせい, kihatsusei)
  •  Ossetian: сысгæ‎
  •  Korean: 휘발성의‎ (hwibalseong-ui)
  •  Romanian: volatil‎ (masc.)
  •  Afrikaans: vlugtig‎
  •  Thai: ลบเลือนได้‎ (lópleuandâi)
  •  Italian: volatile‎
  •  Russian: лету́чий‎
  •  Finnish: haihtuva‎
  •  Maori: tākohukohu‎
  •  Hungarian: illékony‎
  •  French: volatil‎
  •  Turkish: uçucu‎
  •  Chinese – Mandarin: 易揮發的‎, 易挥发的‎
  •  Slovak: prchavý‎ (masc.)
  •  Dutch: vluchtig‎
  •  Norwegian: flyktig‎
  •  Manx: so-ghaalagh‎
  •  Polish: lotny‎
  •  Hebrew: נדיף‎
  •  Portuguese: volátil‎
  •  Czech: prchavý‎ (masc.)
  •  Malay: meruap‎
  •  German: volatil‎
  •  Swedish: flyktig‎

What is the origin of volatile?

According to Etymonline, the word volatile has been used since c16 and comes from the Old French volatile and Latin volatilis/Latin volātilis. This comes from the past participle stem of volare/past participle of volāre, meaning to fly. The noun volatiles was used in Middle English to refer to winged creatures like birds and butterflies, in c14.

How can the word volatile be used in a sentence?

The word volatile can be used in many different contexts in the English language. Trying to use a word in a sentence is one of the best ways to memorize its definition and add it to your vocabulary, but you can also try making flashcards or quizzes that test your knowledge. Try using this word of the day in a sentence today! Below are a couple of  examples of the word volatile that can help get you started incorporating this word into your vocabulary.  

Their volatile relationship was constantly on again-off again.

Her boss’ volatile behavior was terrifying. She never knew if she was going to get someone friendly or a terror.

The volatile weather meant the citizens had no idea how to dress.

What are synonyms and antonyms of volatile?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word volatile (adj.). These are considered synonyms, which are words that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Synonyms are useful to know if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself or if you are looking to expand your vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the word volatile is provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  tempestuous
  •  high-strung
  •  fluctuating
  •  unpredictable
  •  momentary
  •  protean
  •  hot-tempered
  •  caprice
  •  inconstancy
  •  sensitive
  •  scatterbrained
  •  nervous
  •  cranky
  •  light
  •  charged
  •  uncertain
  •  fading
  •  flitting
  •  expansive
  •  evanescent
  •  short-lived
  •  irregular
  •  undependable
  •  changeable
  •  temporary
  •  turbulent
  •  vaporous
  •  frivolous
  •  flighty
  •  mercurial
  •  skittish
  •  labile
  •  quick-tempered
  •  fickle
  •  varying
  •  short-tempered
  •  fanciful
  •  passionate
  •  evaporable
  •  fluid
  •  moody
  •  excitable
  •  unstable
  •  fitful
  •  elastic
  •  irresolute
  •  changing
  •  unreliable
  •  impulsive
  •  explosive
  •  tense
  •  hotheaded
  •  irascible
  •  corky
  •  transient
  •  vacillating
  •  variable
  •  elusive
  •  fugacious
  •  temperamental
  •  whimsical
  •  inconsistent
  •  inflammable
  •  emotional
  •  fleeting
  •  fiery
  •  capricious
  •  changeful
  •  blowing hot and cold
  •  impermanent
  •  effervescent
  •  indecisive
  •  eruptive
  •  restless
  •  touchy
  •  fugitive
  •  transitory
  •  impetuous
  •  ephemeral
  •  giddy
  •  inconstant
  •  airy
  •  edgy
  •  short-term
  •  instable
  •  wavering
  •  fraught
  •  unsettled
  •  erratic
  •  shifting
  •  evaporative
  •  brief
  •  mutable
  •  combustible
  •  irritable
  •  lively
  •  unsteady
  •  irresponsible
  •  delicate
  •  fly-by-night
  •  testy
  •  passing 

There are also many different words that have the opposite meaning as the word volatile. These are considered antonyms. Antonyms are also very useful to know if you want to expand your vocabulary and knowledge of the English language. This list of antonyms for the word volatile is also provided by Power Thesaurus

  •  ineradicable
  •  static
  •  strong
  •  fixed
  •  deeply ingrained
  •  deeply implanted
  •  predictable
  •  fixed to a great extent
  •  reliable
  •  stable
  •  greatly fixed
  •  like clockwork
  •  very upset
  •  hard
  •  calm
  •  firm
  •  deeply fixed
  •  implanted
  •  inveterate
  •  deep
  •  life long
  •  entrenched
  •  unchanging
  •  stationary
  •  inevitable
  •  deep-rooted
  •  deeply rooted
  •  deeply embedded
  •  steady
  •  persistent
  •  constant
  •  dyed-in-the-wool
  •  invariable
  •  permanent
  •  lasting
  •  settled
  •  deep-seated
  •  driven in
  •  deeply entrenched
  •  steadfast
  •  dependable
  •  24-7
  •  firmly established
  •  ingrained
  •  bred-in-the-bone
  •  big deal
  •  enduring
  •  certain
  •  engrained
  •  nonvolatile

Overall, the word volatile means changing at a moment’s notice. This word is Latin in origin.

Sources:

  1. Volatile definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary 
  2. volatile: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  3. Volatile synonyms – 1 250 Words and Phrases for Volatile | Power Thesaurus 
  4. Volatile antonyms – 177 Opposites of Volatile | Power Thesaurus 
  5. volatile | Origin and meaning of volatile | Online Etymology Dictionary