Watch out when a situation becomes volatile — it is likely to change for the worse suddenly. If you and your best friend have a volatile relationship, you frequently fight and make up.

Volatile from Latin volatilis, "fleeting, transitory," always gives the sense of sudden, radical change. Think of it as the opposite of stable. A person who is volatile loses his or her temper suddenly and violently. A volatile political situation could erupt into civil war. When the stock market is volatile, it fluctuates greatly. And in scientific language, a volatile oil evaporates quickly.

Definitions of volatile

adj liable to lead to sudden change or violence

“a volatile situation with troops and rioters eager for a confrontation”
lacking stability or fixity or firmness

adj marked by erratic changeableness in affections or attachments

“a flirt's volatile affections”
likely to change frequently often without apparent or cogent reason; variable

adj tending to vary often or widely

volatile stocks”
volatile emotions”
changeable, changeful
such that alteration is possible; having a marked tendency to change

adj evaporating readily at normal temperatures and pressures

volatile oils”
volatile solvents”
likely to change frequently often without apparent or cogent reason; variable
evaporable, vaporific, vaporizable, vapourific, vapourisable, volatilisable, volatilizable
(used of substances) capable of being volatilized
nonvolatile, nonvolatilisable, nonvolatilizable
not volatilizing readily

n a volatile substance; a substance that changes readily from solid or liquid to a vapor

“it was heated to evaporate the volatiles
Type of:
the real physical matter of which a person or thing consists

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