lam·​bent ˈlam-bənt How to pronounce lambent (audio)
: playing lightly on or over a surface : flickering
: softly bright or radiant
: marked by lightness or brilliance especially of expression
lambently adverb

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Lambent and Flames

In his short story “The Word,” Vladimir Nabokov limned a dream-like landscape where “a wind, like the foretaste of a miracle, played in my hair” and grasses “lapped at the tree trunks like tongues of fire.” Both the wind and the grass in these passages might be described by one of the oldest senses of lambent: “playing lightly over a surface.” That Nabokov compared flames to tongues, as people often do, is doubly appropriate. Lambent, which first appeared in English in the 17th century, is a part of this tradition, coming from lambens, a form of the Latin verb lambere, meaning “to lick.” (Lap, as in “waves lapping at the shore,” also counts lambere among its distant relations.) Early uses of lambent were usually applied to flames or light (it can also mean “flickering”), and by way of that association, the term eventually came to describe things with a radiant or brilliant glow, first in a literal sense (“a lambent sunset”) and later a figurative one applied to prose, music, and other expressions marked by lightness or brilliance.

Examples of lambent in a Sentence

lambent sunlight glinting off the waves a writer known for her lambent wit
Recent Examples on the Web At the top end of the market, the power to authenticate a Picasso, a Rothko, a Hepworth, is a lambent, magical thing. Sam Knight, The New Yorker, 19 Sep. 2022 Finally, a razor-sharp line appeared ahead of us where the lambent sea ended and blackness began. Sam Keck Scott, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 June 2022 Rich and round with lambent acidity and a hint of orange citrics. Tom Mullen, Forbes, 22 May 2022 Within minutes the profile of the 2021 vintage emerged: bright and lambent acidity integrated with spry aromas of slightly wild red fruits—country lane strawberries and young raspberries—before a background of subtle, silky tannins. Tom Mullen, Forbes, 27 Mar. 2022 In the mouth, a powerhouse of scintillating flavors—precise, clean, vibrant—provide a rich, layered, lambent dessert wine. Tom Mullen, Forbes, 31 Oct. 2021 Silky tannins, lambent red fruit flavors—cherries, raspberries, light plums, passionfruit. Tom Mullen, Forbes, 31 Oct. 2021 The lambent bass of René Pape, who performed the title role, has been mesmerizing Met audiences for nearly thirty years. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 11 Oct. 2021 Principal oboe John Ferrillo also deserves special mention for the glowing, lambent beauty of his solo to open the slow movement., 9 Aug. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'lambent.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin lambent-, lambens, present participle of lambere to lick — more at lap

First Known Use

1647, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of lambent was in 1647


Dictionary Entries Near lambent

Cite this Entry

“Lambent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


lam·​bent ˈlam-bənt How to pronounce lambent (audio)
: playing lightly over a surface : flickering
: softly radiant
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