vol·​a·​tile | \ ˈvä-lə-tᵊl How to pronounce volatile (audio) , especially British -ˌtī(-ə)l \

Essential Meaning of volatile

1 : likely to change in a very sudden or extreme way The stock market can be very volatile.
2 : having or showing extreme or sudden changes of emotion She is a volatile woman. He has a very volatile temper. [=he gets angry very suddenly and violently]
3 : likely to become dangerous or out of control The protests are increasing, creating a volatile situation in the capital.

Full 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
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



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


volatileness noun

The History of Volatile Is for the Birds


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 Oil prices edged lower in volatile trading Tuesday, but held near multiyear highs. Will Horner, WSJ, 12 Oct. 2021 Bitcoin prices once again topped $50,000 on Friday as the popular cryptocurrency continued its volatile trading. Benzinga, Detroit Free Press, 4 Sep. 2021 Marley and Perry maintained a close yet highly volatile professional and personal relationship until the reggae superstar's death from cancer in 1981. NBC News, 29 Aug. 2021 The second quarter of 2020 was a highly volatile one as traders navigated the impact of the pandemic, which gave Wall Street traders ample opportunities to find investments to profit from in the volatility. Ken Sweet, Star Tribune, 14 July 2021 Dicamba is a highly volatile compound and can evaporate after it is sprayed on top of crops, moving through the air as a gas. Ann Gehan, Dallas News, 14 June 2021 Due to limited interest among domestic buyers, artists and artisans on the continent suffer from an over-dependence on highly volatile foreign tourism. Nafeesah Allen, House Beautiful, 2 June 2021 Private offerings of digital currencies have been extremely volatile, and in many cases have been associated with criminal activities and have so far failed to be adopted widely for daily transactions, such as for buying groceries or movie tickets. Andrew Ackerman, WSJ, 4 Oct. 2021 In the end, when demand and supply are highly volatile and have high variability, the best approach is to test all your assumptions with the consumer and build sensitivity analysis models around your forecast. Greg Petro, Forbes, 1 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Though the team could not say which volatiles were present, there was reason to hope that water might be one of them. Remy Tumin, New York Times, 24 Mar. 2020 The organic molecules and volatiles, comparable to samples of sedimentary rock rich in organics on Earth, included thiophenes, methylthiophenes methanethiol and dimethylsulfide. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 6 Mar. 2020 Beyond the snowline, these volatiles condensed into giant gas-balls. The Economist, 18 Dec. 2019 The spacecraft also discovered volatiles like chlorine, sulfur, sodium and potassium on the planet, according to The Times, signifying that Mercury has a complex origin story. Jennifer Leman, Popular Mechanics, 9 Nov. 2019 To explain this depletion, scientists suggest the massive amount of energy and heat generated from the giant impact may have driven volatiles from the fragments of the proto-moon. Erica Jawin, Scientific American, 2 July 2019 The evidence that plants can somehow perceive these volatiles and respond with a defense response is also very good. Quanta Magazine, 16 Dec. 2013 The moon then coalesced from the disk—a scenario that can explain the moon’s large mass and dearth of water and other volatiles. Simon J. Lock, Scientific American, 2 July 2019 Dryness: The lunar samples proved to be extremely dry and almost entirely depleted of volatiles—elements or molecules with low boiling points that easily evaporate, such as water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and hydrogen. Erica Jawin, Scientific American, 2 July 2019

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


1605, in the meaning defined at sense 3


1686, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for volatile

Adjective and Noun

French, from Latin volatilis, from volare to fly

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About volatile

Time Traveler for volatile

Time Traveler

The first known use of volatile was in 1605

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About volatile

Dictionary Entries Near volatile



volatile liniment

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for volatile

Last Updated

18 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Volatile.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/volatile. Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon
Seen & Heard
People are talking about

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for volatile


vol·​a·​tile | \ ˈvä-lə-tᵊl How to pronounce volatile (audio) \

Kids Definition of volatile

1 : easily becoming a gas at a fairly low temperature volatile solvents
2 : likely to change suddenly a volatile temper


vol·​a·​tile | \ ˈväl-ət-ᵊl, especially British -ə-ˌtīl \

Medical Definition of volatile

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a volatile substance



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 How to pronounce volatile (audio) \ noun, plural volatilities

More from Merriam-Webster on volatile

Nglish: Translation of volatile for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of volatile for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Dog Words Quiz

  • shiba puppy more or less demanding cuddles
  • Which of the following animals has a dog in its etymology?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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