except for their other uses, such as 霹雳舞(breakdance) and their respective 成语, are they considered synonyms? they're both translated as

霹雳: thunderbolt

雷霆: thunderbolt

空中雷霆一响,就把孩子吓哭了 = The thunderbolt came from the sky, and frightened the child into crying.

我听到了一声霹雳,随后天空突然开始下起了雨 = I heard a clap of thunder, and then it suddenly began to rain

  • When as children, mothers used to caution their kids not to tell lies, otherwise the 雷, ("lei") would 霹 ("pi") you. 霹 means to break something violently, and so to the ancients this is more the work of a bolt of lightning, (which is visible), rather than a thunderous but unseen sound from a 雷. Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 4:46

3 Answers 3


According to 汉典:

霹雳 (pīlì) mainly means thunderbolt as the atmospherical phenomenon.


sudden and loud thunder, it's the strong lightning bolt occurring between the clouds and earth

雷霆 (léitíng) mainly means thunderclap, as the booming sound of the thunderbolt, and it's also used figuratively. In English that would be thunderous.


booming and sudden thunder clap


describes metaphorically prestige or rage (thunderous, roaring)

In your examples, the two words look similar because of context:


Here it's definitely thunderclap, reinforced by the presence of 响, denoting a sound. (The usage of “一 yī” follows the "一 (yī) ~ 就 (jiù)" structure, events in quick sequence). "A thunderclap from the sky, ...".

Translating as "The thunderbolt" is not wrong, but that seems poetic license on the translator's part, which is fine, since the sentence can't be nicely translated word-for-word.


Here 霹雳 is preceded by 一声, which works as a classifier / measure word, and results in "one sound of thunderbolt". Therefore "I heard a clap of thunder."

  • "空中雷霆一响,就把孩子吓哭了". 响 in 一响 here is not a measure word. 一响 here set up a sequence. It's more like "once", "when", "after", etc. The sentence roughly means "Hearing the thunder, the boy was frightened to cry."
    – dan
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 11:22
  • Compare to: 铃声一响,同学们马上就进教室了。
    – dan
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 11:23
  • @dan Your analysis is correct, as a matter of fact I did not say that 一响 is a measure word...
    – blackgreen
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 11:27
  • ok, this part makes me think you might take it as a measure word "Here it's definitely thunderclap, reinforced by 一响. "A thunderclap from the sky""
    – dan
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 11:41
  • @dan thanks for bringing that up, edited for clarity
    – blackgreen
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 11:56

As a noun, both 霹靂 and 雷霆 can be translated as "thunderbolt"

To find the difference between them, we can look into the idioms associate with the two terms:

  • 雷霆萬均(之勢) = Thunderous (momentum)

  • 大發雷霆 = Raging furiously; thunderous rage

  • 晴天霹靂 = Thunder from a clear sunny sky

From the idioms above, it seems like:

  • 霹靂 is mainly used as a noun for 'thunderbolt' or 'sound of a thunderclap'

  • 雷霆 is mainly used in a metaphorical sense. As an adjective for "thunderous" e.g. 雷霆一擊 (a thunderous strike)



To me, this sentence is a bit off, because 霹雳 is usually a vision of lightening. I will probably put: 一道霹雳,随后天空突然开始下起了雨。 or 就见一道霹雳,随后天空突然开始下起了雨。


This sentence makes a lot of sense.

So, the difference: 雷霆 is more of sounding and 霹雳 is more of vision.

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