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There's a huge thunderstorm here in Kaohsiung right now so I thought I would learn the word for "thunder".

I can find three words in the dictionary and wonder which I should use for everybody to understand me:

  • 雷 léi
  • 雷聲 léishēng
  • 雷鳴 léimíng

I know often single-character words are technically correct but not usually used on their own. But also quite a few are, such as 雨.

Also some words are poetic or technical or archaic or dialectal, etc.

Which of these three words should I use most of the time for "thunder"?

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    Use 雷聲. 雷鳴 is used in written texts while 雷 is the simplified form and is usually to form compound words. – 超酷爆帅型男 Sep 2 '16 at 13:22
  • Good question, and how to distinguish between thunder and lightning in Chinese. I guess 打雷 is best for thunder (although I feel like it could just as easily meaning lightning). – user3306356 Sep 2 '16 at 13:26
  • "how to distinguish between thunder and lightning in Chinese" we know the fact that we "看見閃電 (see lighting)" and "聽到行雷(hear thunder)" – Tang Ho Sep 2 '16 at 19:00
  • Just an advice: if you don't know which one is more used, type it on Baidu or Google and see which one returns the most results. – Enrico Brasil Sep 6 '16 at 21:39
  • @EnricoBrasil: This method is good unless one of the options is a single character in which case it always gets more hits whether or not it's much used as a word on its own or mostly in compounds. – hippietrail Sep 7 '16 at 3:22
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打雷 is the best for describing action.
現在外面正在打雷 There's thunder outside right now

雷聲 is also good for describing what you hear
我剛被雷聲嚇到 I was surprised (shocked) by the sound of the thunder

雷 by itself means thunder, and used a little less often
but it also means bomb as in 地雷.
這家店有雷. This store is a bomb. (When joking to friends that this food store sucks and is like stepping on a bomb/mine)

You could say, 外面有雷 There is thunder outside
But it would sound awkward, the common phrase would be, 外面正在打雷

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Which of these three words should I use most of the time for "thunder"?

行雷/打雷 is the most common term for " thunder"( v with no obj) [it thunders]

雷 (n) thunder

雷電 common term for " thunder and lightning " (n)

行雷/打雷 verb with no object for " thunder" : [it thunders]

行雷閃電 - common phrase for " thundering and lightning"(v- no obj)

雷聲 = sound of thunder; 雷響 = booming of thunder; 雷嗚 = roar of thunder

Example sentences:

  • 看見閃電之後數秒才聽到行雷/打雷 - a few seconds after seeing lightning, you'll hear thunder
  • 看見閃電之後數秒才聽到雷聲 - a few seconds after seeing lightning, you'll hear the sound of thunder
  • 看見閃電之後數秒才聽到雷響 - a few seconds after seeing lightning, you'll hear the booming of thunder

  • 電閃後必有雷嗚 - after flash of lightning, roar of thunder will come

雷嗚 is mostly used in poetic sense

It might sounds strange, for "lighting strike", 雷轟, 雷擊, 雷打 or 雷劈 is more popular than 電擊 or 電殛; meanwhile 電殛 also means "electrocute"

  • Just some tips on your English translations. We don't really say "it thunders" in the same way we say "it rains" or "it snows". Maybe some people do. I don't know if we really say "roar" either though it's perfect for the sound. For thunder we say "crash". I edited some other stuff for you. Great answer - thanks! – hippietrail Sep 2 '16 at 17:08
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    " [it thunders] was not in any speech, it was from the dictionary just to illustrate thunder as a verb – Tang Ho Sep 2 '16 at 18:14
  • 行雷 is more like Cantonese – ziyuang Apr 2 '18 at 22:33

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