volatile

adjective
vol·a·tile | \ ˈvä-lə-tᵊl , especially British -ˌtī(-ə)l \

Definition of volatile 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a : characterized by or subject to rapid or unexpected change a volatile market

b : unable to hold the attention fixed because of an inherent lightness or fickleness of disposition

2a : tending to erupt into violence : explosive a volatile temper

b : easily aroused volatile suspicions

c : lighthearted, lively

3 : readily vaporizable at a relatively low temperature

4 : difficult to capture or hold permanently : evanescent, transitory

5 : flying or having the power to fly

volatile

noun
vol·a·tile | \ ˈvä-lə-tᵊl , especially British -ˌtī(-ə)l \

Definition of volatile (Entry 2 of 2)

: a substance that is readily vaporizable at relatively low temperature : a volatile substance

Keep scrolling for more

Other words from volatile

Adjective

volatileness noun
volatility \ˌvä-lə-ˈti-lə-tē \ noun

The History of volatile Is For the Birds

Adjective

Volatile was originally for the birds - quite literally. Back in the 14th century, volatile was a noun that referred to birds (especially wild fowl) or other winged creatures, such as butterflies. That's not as flighty as it sounds. Volatile traces back to the Latin verb volare, which means "to fly." By the end of the 16th century, people were using volatile as an adjective for things that were so light they seemed ready to fly. The adjective was soon extended to vapors and gases, and by the early 17th century, volatile was being applied to individuals or things as prone to sudden change as some gaseous substances. In recent years, volatile has landed in economic, political, and technical contexts far flown from its avian origins.

Examples of volatile in a Sentence

Adjective

I am beginning to hear investors say that the best way to beat this volatile market is by trading—anxiously moving in and out of securities as the market ebbs and flows. In my view there is no surer path to the poorhouse. —John W. Rogers, Jr., Forbes, 25 May 2009 Usually, only a few of the volatile chemicals in a fragrance are obviously noticeable to human noses. —Ivan Amato, Science News, 24 Sept. 2005 VOCs (or volatile organic compounds) are thought to be among the potential culprits behind illnesses often lumped under the heading of Sick Building Syndrome. —Scott Schilling, This Old House, March 2005 … it was Elvis who represented rock and roll at its unblushing, volatile best; he was its first master and the embodiment of every reason that adolescents of the postwar years turned to it in favor of the cheerfully torpid pop music … to which their parents were listening. —David Hajdu, New York Review of Books, 9 Oct. 2003 When left unused, make-up has a tendency to dry out because any water or other volatile substances it contains evaporate. —Barry Fox, New Scientist, 9 Aug. 2003 The stock market can be very volatile. She is a volatile woman. The protests are increasing, creating a volatile situation in the capital.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

This is a volatile, risky strategy, but the impulse towards face-saving is reassuring. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Why Trump Might Lose His Trade War With China," 9 July 2018 Instead, companies need to adapt to a world that is VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and which requires continuous innovation in order to keep up. The Economist, "The fashion for agile management is spreading," 5 July 2018 Turner was perversely inspired by one theme of the 2016 American election, one that envisioned the GOP candidate as a kind of punk rock anarchist: volatile, transgressive, a purposeful spectacle. James Sullivan, BostonGlobe.com, "Frank Turner comes to town for six nights of not being a role model," 21 June 2018 Sometimes too soft, other times volatile, but always loving and wanting the best for their children, which is an admirable quality fathers possess. Pat Lenhoff, chicagotribune.com, "Column: Father's Day and childhood memories," 11 June 2018 But police also noted that armed citizens can complicate volatile situations. Frances Stead Sellers, Washington Post, "Two Oklahoma citizens killed an active shooter, and it's not as simple as it sounds," 13 July 2018 The Ottawa Senators are dealing with an volatile situation involving their star player, a personal tragedy and a teammate’s fiancée. Detroit Free Press, "Erik Karlsson's wife: I was harassed by teammate's fiancee while pregnant," 13 June 2018 Since the beginning of the year, Turkey has waged a campaign against Kurdish militias in the north—all contributing to a volatile situation. Sune Engel Rasmussen, WSJ, "Aid Groups Seek Billions to Help Syrian Civilians," 24 Apr. 2018 Cities's strict standards are generally for situations where there is time to deescalate volatile situations, such as with people who are mentally unstable, Obayashi said. Don Thompson, The Christian Science Monitor, "California proposal would significantly restrict when officers can open fire," 4 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

A year later, The Following expansion made good on some of Dying Light’s promise, with a much more interesting conceit (sentient volatiles!) and more personality for protagonist Kyle Crane. Hayden Dingman, PCWorld, "Dying Light 2 builds more heart and brains into one of the best zombie games ever," 15 June 2018 Tholins are a sort of aerosol thrown out when volatiles escape an atmosphere, but Pluto appears to not lose many of its volatile particles to space. John Wenz, Popular Mechanics, "Here's What We Know About Pluto So Far," 17 July 2015 The organic molecules and volatiles, comparable to samples of sedimentary rock rich in organics on Earth, included thiopene, methylthiophenes methanethiol and dimethylsulfide. Ashley Strickland, CNN, "NASA's Curiosity rover finds organic matter on Mars," 7 June 2018 My developed method utilizes fungus and volatiles to deter the growth of purple nutsedge without risk to non-target plants and to the benefit of the agricultural community. Hanna Howard, Teen Vogue, "Meet 7 Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalists," 9 Mar. 2018 Understanding lunar volatiles could improve the productivity and value of future human involvement with the moon, scientists have stressed. Leonard David, Scientific American, "Should We Open Some Sealed Moon Samples?," 5 Mar. 2018 The current best suggestion is the boiling off of volatiles. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "LISA pathfinder mission a glorious success," 12 Feb. 2018 Caesar would scoop up at least 100 grams from the comet, separating the volatiles — constituents that could evaporate — from the more solid substances. Kenneth Chang, New York Times, "Finalists in NASA’s Spacecraft Sweepstakes: A Drone on Titan, and a Comet-Chaser," 19 Dec. 2017 But the tomato's flavor is especially layered, involving chemicals like acids and sugars (which switch on taste receptors) as well as compounds known as volatiles (which get our smell receptors in gear). Brian Handwerk, Smithsonian, "The Quest to Return Tomatoes to Their Full-Flavored Glory," 26 Jan. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'volatile.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of volatile

Adjective

1605, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Noun

1686, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for volatile

Adjective

French, from Latin volatilis, from volare to fly

Noun

see volatile entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about volatile

Listen to Our Podcast about volatile

Statistics for volatile

Last Updated

18 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for volatile

The first known use of volatile was in 1605

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for volatile

volatile

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of volatile

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: likely to change in a very sudden or extreme way

: having or showing extreme or sudden changes of emotion

: likely to become dangerous or out of control

volatile

noun

English Language Learners Definition of volatile (Entry 2 of 2)

: a chemical or compound that changes into a gas easily

volatile

adjective
vol·a·tile | \ ˈvä-lə-tᵊl \

Kids Definition of volatile

1 : easily becoming a gas at a fairly low temperature volatile solvents

2 : likely to change suddenly a volatile temper

volatile

noun
vol·a·tile | \ ˈväl-ət-ᵊl, esp British -ə-ˌtīl \

Medical Definition of volatile 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: a volatile substance

volatile

adjective

Medical Definition of volatile (Entry 2 of 2)

: readily vaporizable at a relatively low temperature

Other words from volatile

volatility \ˌväl-ə-ˈtil-ət-ē \ noun plural volatilities

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on volatile

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for volatile

Spanish Central: Translation of volatile

Nglish: Translation of volatile for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of volatile for Arabic Speakers

Comments on volatile

What made you want to look up volatile? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

to make amends

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!