When we talk about lightning and thunder, we generally use the words like this:

  1. It's lightning
  2. It's thundering
  3. The antenna was hit by lightning

But sometimes we use thunder in the past tense...

  1. It thundered twice before lightning hit the tower.
  2. It rained heavily yesterday and thundered so severely.

Now, how do we use the word lightning in the past tense like the word thunder? Does the verb 'lightning' have a past tense?

  • How could you check? Nov 6, 2014 at 1:20
  • @EdwinAshworth my Oxford doesn't have it. Perhaps someone has access to a larger dictionary or lexicon.
    – itsols
    Nov 6, 2014 at 2:05
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    Dictionary.com has lightninged. Not sure how far to trust it. However, the word is almost never used. Also, since lightning comes from lightening, the "proper" past would be lightened, but that is certainly an obsolete usage.
    – Amadan
    Nov 6, 2014 at 2:18
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    yes, many sources don't even list "lightning" as a verb, and I never ever hear that, nor have heard it. Interesting though that the example you provide in present progressive is "It's lightning," which could, I suppose, not be a present progressive at all but rather answer the question "What is it?" But you're asking about the verb, and when you say "we generally say", I'm assuming the "generally" refers in some way to frequency; and though I may misunderstand what you mean by "we", but if that includes me, then I'd have to say you're wrong: we don't generally say "It's lightning."
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 6, 2014 at 2:26
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    @EdwinAshworth probably the best universal solution is to use "There was lightning", because I'd imagine most people in my area would misunderstand "last night it lightened" as perhaps missing the word "up" and refering to the wind or rain not being as intense. Nov 7, 2014 at 4:13

4 Answers 4


OED lists lightning as a verb and includes the past tense form lightninged:

Lightning, v.: = lighten v.2 6. Also fig

1903 Westm. Gaz. 16 Nov. 8/2 The two metal balls..thundered and lightninged as they delivered the message.

1926 H. Caine in Strand Mag. Jan. 20/1 Mr. Gladstone leapt to his feet, whereupon the air of the House thundered and lightninged for a short ten minutes.

1935 Z. N. Hurston Mules & Men i. i. 27 You know, when it lightnings, de angels is peepin' in de lookin' glass.

This is not some mere quotation from the entry of lighten, as you can see, it's listed explicitly as a separate entry, separate from the noun form, with a single sense. Here's it's entry profile: enter image description here

Contrary to people saying this is not a common form or inadvisable, I'm a native speaker, I use it, and can confirm that everyone around me (I'm in the US South) uses it. To me, lightened only has an inchoative meaning (that is, to become lighter) and I would never use it to refer to the electrical discharge and likely not understand it as such barring other context clues. Notice that the original citations are from England (although Edwin says it's unused in Britain these days), and the OED doesn't list it as being obsolete, literary, dialectal, rare. Curiously, for most (myself included), the present participle is invariable, although given that Urban Dictionary has several entries for it, it's possible someone uses it somewhere. Personally, if I did, since I normally pronounce -ing as [n̩], there'd be little perceptible difference between [lɑ̝ʔ.nə̆n] and [lɑ̝ʔ.nə̆n.n̩].

While I admit it may be more frequent in my dialect, it's certainly used in higher, academic registers. For example, looking at the linguistics article "What Rains?" (Bill J. Darden, Linguistic Inquiry 4.4 [1973]), the verb is used in line with other verbs in a linguistics article about a completely different topic:

Even in English there are problems that for the presumption that every sentence has a subject. In sentences such as (1), the it seems to have neither of the normal functions of pronouns:
(1) It rained (snowed, thundered, lightninged).
It is not deitic, nor does it refer to an entity named by another noun phrase.

Likewise, in another article, "Grammar and Existence: A Preface to Ontology" (from Mind, 1960, Oxford UP) we can find:

That it has just lightninged (causally) implies that it will shortly thunder. (p. 519)

In fact, you can even find a compounded past participle form of it in Judith Witt's review of two books in Modern Philology 90.2 (1992):

“A kiss is just a kiss, even when it is a great kiss,” cautions Susan Morgan of the white-lightninged climax of James's Portrait of a Lady (1881). (p. 285)

Even more recently, it was used in "June Twelfth" (Anatoly Naiman, American Poetry Review 34.4 [2005]:

Yesterday was sunny and warm, then a storm struck, It thundered and lightninged, it poured, and then the sun came out again. (p. 39)

And also a figurative use from 1992 ("Gardening, The Professor", Jill P. Baumgaertner, The Centennial Review 36.3 [1992])

… These lumpy legs / he hangs from trellises next to the pond / lightninged with the fish

And a present simple usage since people still don't think the verb exists separately, from "Naturalism and Process" (Hegeler Institute, The Monist 64.1 [1981]):

  1. We now need to note the existence in the manifest framework of verbs which take dummy subjects.
    • It rains
    • It thunders
    • It lightnings (p. 47)

According to Google N-Grams, lightning is the prefered verb in the phrase thunder and [lighten|lightning], though both clearly exist and are used.

Given that others seem to refute the existance of lightning[s|ed] as a verb even in spite of the clear evidence to the contrary, if you wish to use a past tense construction, your best bet is going to be to say that there was lightning avoiding the verbs entirely or use it was lightning which (I think) is acceptable spelling on both sides of the Atlantic. Besides, these days, it seems for the past few decades, most people use the "there was lightning" structure a lot more than any other form combined.

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    Shouldn't one contrast the results for 'thundered and lightninged'/'thundered and lightened'? {Google Ngrams} This shows the latter as 5x as common as the former. Even this really surprises me; obviously I'm being too parochial. My apologies to the the South. Only the latter seems to be used here in the UK; the other flatlines. Nov 6, 2014 at 14:37
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    Presumably, for most people lightning is either an irregular verb or a defective verb. Putting it more simply, I don't imagine very many people would say "lightninging". Nov 6, 2014 at 14:38
  • Your ngram isn't objective. The question is not about the nouns. By adding "thunders and lightnings" you distort the outcome. Well, never trust a statistic you didn't make yourself.
    – Em1
    Nov 6, 2014 at 15:07
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    @Em1 Those are both generally uncountable in modern English. Plural forms in that ngram ought to be negligible. In any case, it should be clear that lightning is a legitimately used verb, with lightninged as its past tense. Nov 6, 2014 at 15:18
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    @RoaringFish Just because you don't use a form doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Sometimes variations exist in a language. You cite Dictionary.com, yet apparently conveniently ignore the fact that it too includes lightning as a verb, with lightninged as its past tense with lightning as its invariable present participle. Good Lord Almighty, how obtuse can you be? How much more evidence do you need? I accept that people say lightened even though I frankly had never heard it (or at least noticed it) until today. Why do you refuse to do the same with lightninged? Nov 7, 2014 at 6:57

The word you are looking for is lightened.

"It thundered and lightened for hours" from Dictionary.com

Eleven more examples of lightened in use

Some individual examples:

Before it thundered and lightened, or ever the foundations of paradise were laid

On the 11th of April, 1824, it thundered and lightened considerably

In the night of Wednesday, Dec 4, it thundered and lightened very much. We have had wet weather ever since and last night from eleven to one in the morning it thundered and lightened again with great violence

More modern examples:

@ooGloryoo me too! it thundered and lightened and poured here all night

Barely half an hour later it thundered and lightened!

Turning to Ngram, this one is for thundered and lightened versus thundered and lightninged, and it says that thundered and lightninged is not found. This one is for lightninged on its own, and it is also 'nothing found' This suggests that whatever dictionaries say, the word lightninged is not in widespread use.

The reason for this lies in the etymology. The easy-access one is Etymology Online where we find that lightning is not a verb as some are insisting, but is actually a verbal noun formed by adding the -ing suffix to lighten.

The paid access one is the good old OED that has more information. Here, we find that lightning is still listed as a noun and not a verb:

lightning, n.

Pronunciation: /ˈlaɪtnɪŋ/ Forms: Also ME liȝtnynge, ME, 15 lyghtnyng, ME–15 lightnyng, lyght(e)nynge, lyt(e)nynge, (ME litynnynge, 15 lyghteling), 15–17 lightening, 16–17 light'ning.

Etymology: Special use of lightening n.2; now differentiated in spelling.

1. The visible discharge of electricity between one group of clouds and another, or between the clouds and the ground. Also in particularized sense (now rare), A flash of lightning. like lightning, with the swiftness of lightning. Also in phr. †in less than, †to last no longer than a lightning .

Note that the etymology is the same a lightening. So... we take a look at what OED has to say about lightening:

lightening, n.2

Pronunciation: /ˈlaɪt(ə)nɪŋ/ Forms: See also lightning n. Etymology: < lighten v.2 + -ing suffix1.

a. The shedding or shining of light; suffusion with light, lighting up; fig. enlightenment, illumination.

Here we see that lightening is again a noun, formed by adding the suffix -ing to the verb lighten.

In simple terms, Etymology Online and the Oxford English Dictionary both tell us that lightning is the -ing form of lighten. Adding an -ed suffix to a word that already has an -ing suffix is obvious nonsense.

The past form of lightning is formed by going back to the root lighten and adding an -ed suffix to get lightened

Staying with OED, if we search it for lightninged, it has no entry. It returns only two quotations from early 20th century gazettes:

1903 Westm. Gaz. 16 Nov. 8/2 The two metal balls..thundered and lightninged as they delivered the message.

1926 H. Caine in Strand Mag. Jan. 20/1 Mr. Gladstone leapt to his feet, whereupon the air of the House thundered and lightninged for a short ten minutes.

This confirms the Ngram result that lightninged is not in widespread use.

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    This answers for lighten, not lightning. Nov 6, 2014 at 12:49
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    Then why do they all say "thundered and lightened"? You think first it thundered, then they all ran outside and made something lighter? Nov 6, 2014 at 13:01
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    Thundered and lightninged is very much found: books.google.com/ngrams/… Nov 6, 2014 at 14:03
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    I frankly don't care what lightning's etymology is, you're committing an etymological fallacy. It is, today, a verb unto itself. You can deny that until you're blue in the face but that doesn't change reality. There is one verb with bare infinitive lighten, and there is another one that is lightning. I'm sorry that that is a difficult concept for you to grasp, and I'm sorry that the OED isn't a good enough source for you. For most people it is, and for most people, NGrams are sufficient enough to show use. Or do you deny that lightninged has shown up in published works? Nov 7, 2014 at 3:55
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. Nov 7, 2014 at 8:29

Maybe this is dialectal because i couldn't find it anywhere but growing up I always heard It's lightninging for the present progressive tense and It lightninged for the past.

  • Yes Alex. I'm starting to think so as well - perhaps it varies upon the dialect. But from the debate between the folks on the other answers I think lightninged seems more acceptable. Again, its seems more like a dialect.
    – itsols
    Nov 8, 2014 at 0:55
  • Which is your dialect? That's kinda cool that you have the double -ing. Nov 9, 2014 at 0:38
  • I grew up in northern New York about an hour or so south of Montreal.
    – Alex L.
    Nov 11, 2014 at 8:00

In reading the above comments, I can't figure out how people come to their conclusions. The word 'lightening' and 'lightning' are two completely different words. You can use the root word 'lighten', but there is no root word for 'lightning'. That IS the word. Merriam Webster definitely has different definitions for each of the words.

Also, here is a more clear explanation: http://www.queens-english-society.com/lightning-vs-lightening

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