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What is the collective noun for lightning(s) / thunderbolts?

A ________ of thunderbolts/lightning(s)

Can we use the plural form of lightning with a collective noun? Or should it stay in singular form?

For example:

The valleys of Grand Canyon were being struck by a ________ of lightnings and rumbling like a giant open-air opera house with the following thunders.

(Note: This would be a literary sentence than an everyday speech)

Grand Canyon with lots of lightning on other side

Note: A single lightning event is mentioned as a flash and if it hits the ground or an object, it is mentioned as a strike.

Note 2: Lightning is generally a mass noun but it can be used as a count noun also, especially in literary sense. OED has a definition for the literary sense as a count noun:

[count noun] literary a flash or discharge of lightning: the sky was a mass of black cloud out of which lightnings were flashed.

You can find literary usages in Google Books as well. Plural form was more common in 1800s and the usage has dropped dramatically but there are still some contemporary usages.

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Lightning is used in plural form in technical contexts also. Below are the examples from a technical book called "Lightning Physics and Lightning Protection" (by By Eduard M. Bazelyan, Yuri P. Raizer) also.

The statistics of flight accidents show that aircraft of identical size may differ considerably in the capacity to excite lightnings.


The lightnings people observe most frequently are descending discharges, which originate among storm clouds and strike the earth or objects located on its surface.

Thunderbolt is a count noun.

Note 3: Below is a similar question asked before:
Collective Noun for Fire

The difference between fire and lightning in the context of countability is that fire is also both countable and uncountable but both senses have a common usage.

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    Lightning is a mass noun. Mass nouns don't have collectives; that's only count nouns. Since it's a mass noun, to speak of one event, one has to use a classifier like a stroke of lightning or a bolt of lightning, or as in the picture, a lightning event. – John Lawler Jul 18 '14 at 0:33
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    You can’t have *lightnings to start with. – tchrist Jul 18 '14 at 0:59
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    The "please fill in this blank" part of the question is still "primarily opinion based". And all the misleading stuff about plural lightnings is still there. And barrage isn't a "collective noun" for elements of electrical storms. I've closevoted because I can't see anything here except an Off Topic "writing advice" request. (My advice is "Stop trying to defend plural lightnings - it's not normal English" :) – FumbleFingers Jul 18 '14 at 4:03
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    Your own evidence suggests only that pluralising it is ok in "literary" or "technical" English. To refer to an individual lightning event native speakers would refer to "lightning bolts", "lightning strikes", perhaps "flashes of lightning". Things like "lightning" and "a lightning" sound odd. – Rupe Jul 18 '14 at 10:03
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    @ermanen: What I mean by "normal" English is what people normally say - as illustrated by the fact that Google Books claims almost 2000 instances of scared of lightning, but not a single one for the plural scared of lightnings. There are a couple of plural scared of thunderbolts, but none for thunders (and that's against 3670 instances of scared of thunder). – FumbleFingers Jul 18 '14 at 12:19
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Lightning is the generic term for this weather phenomenon. In normal, non-technical English an individual instance is a lightning flash, a bolt of lightning or a lightning strike. There is no collective noun for them.

However, you could refer to a set of lightning flashes, bolts or strikes by one of the nouns used to describe a group of objects or phenomena. I would suggest something like a succession of lightning flashes. Besides electrical storm, the term lightning storm also exists as a way of implying or describing multiple lightning flashes.

Other suggestions in a non-exhaustive list of possibilities: barrage, volley, parade, procession, sequence and display, depending on which aspect or characteristic of the irruption of flashes seems most salient for the context in which you are describing them.

Because discharges of lightning are ephemeral, and do all not occur simultaneously even during a violent electrical storm, they do not exist as groups in the same sense as a group of children exists, say -- which would be one reason for the lack of a collective noun.

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You can call it a cascade of thunderbolts/lightning.

Merriam-Webster defines the noun form of cascade as:

a large amount of something that flows or hangs down

a large number of things that happen quickly in a series

You can also use cascade as a verb. Merriam-Webster defines the verb form of cascade as:

to fall, pour, or rush in or as if in a cascade

An example using cascade as a verb: Lightning cascaded across the sky over the valleys of the Grand Canyon.

Also, Wiktionary says that lightnings as a plural form of lightning is archaic.

  • So, Are you sure that we cannot use "a cascade of lightnings"? (lightning in plural form) – ermanen Jul 18 '14 at 4:00
  • Sure you can use it, it has been used before: google.com/search?q=%22cascade+of+lightnings%22 But it is an archaic usage. – pacoverflow Jul 18 '14 at 6:10
  • There are also contemporary usages of the plural form of lightning in literature. Can we say that "collective noun + plural form of lightning" is an archaic usage then? Or maybe there are other collective nouns used today. I'm not sure. – ermanen Jul 18 '14 at 13:12
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    Lightning is the generic term for this weather phenomenon. In normal, non-technical English an individual instance is a lightning flash, a bolt of lightning or a lightning strike. There is no collective noun for them. However, you could refer to a set of lightning flashes, bolts or strikes by one of the nouns used to describe a group of objects or phenomena. I would suggest something like a succession of lightning flashes. (Because they are ephemeral, they do not exist as groups in the same sense as a group of children exists, say -- one reason for the lack of a collective noun.) – Erik Kowal Jul 21 '14 at 7:49
  • Other suggestions in a non-exhaustive list of possibilities: barrage, parade, procession, sequence, display, depending on which characteristic of the irruption of flashes seems most salient for the context in which you are describing them. – Erik Kowal Jul 21 '14 at 10:34
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I came across this on the web, from the facebook page of Herald and New - Klamath Falls, Ore..

A barrage of lightning overnight touched off about 60 small fires in southwest and south-central Oregon, and more are expected to become apparent today.

And another, from the National Park Traveller web site

Barrage Of Lightning Strikes Spawns Six Fires Across Yellowstone National Park

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    So? There are virtually infinitely many possible formulations like that. That is not a collective noun dedicated to lightning. – tchrist Jul 23 '14 at 17:29
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    That does not make it any less effective or inappropriate to describe a collection of lightnings. – R Sahu Jul 23 '14 at 17:31
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    Then this is a list question that should be closed as Too Broad because it is just a guessing game or beauty pageant which can have no single right answer. – tchrist Jul 23 '14 at 17:32
  • If we cannot find any other word that is used as often as barrage to describe a collection of lightnings, then that is the best answer. – R Sahu Jul 23 '14 at 17:33
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    Neither of these is a barrage of lightnings. One is a mass noun (lightning); the other an attributive noun (lightning strikes). If anything, this answer supports the view that lightning cannot be countable. – Andrew Leach Jul 23 '14 at 17:49

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