Onomatopoeia - All You Need To Know With Examples

Sound Words

The snake hisses, the hyena cackles, and the wolf howls.

What is an Onomatopoeia? 

An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it means. In other words, it’s a “sound word.”

For example, look at the first sentence of this article. All three animal noises sound like what they mean.

When a snake makes noise, it sounds similar to “hiss.” And the word “cackle” sounds like the noise that comes out of a hyena’s throat. And if you say the word “howl,” you’ll sound a bit like a wolf calling to the moon.

onomatopoeias examples

Origins of Onomatopoeia

But onomatopoeias aren’t limited just to animal noises. Any word that sounds like its meaning counts! So, things like “sigh,” “buzz,” and “bang” are onomatopoeias too.

The word onomatopoeia comes from two Greek roots: ​​onoma (name) + poiein (to make). Therefore, the word makes its own name – it produces a sound.

As we mentioned before, lots of words can be onomatopoeias. And they’re not just verbs either – onomatopoeias can be any part of speech. For instance, “sigh,” “buzz,” and “bang” can all be nouns or verbs. Take a look at these examples:

  • Noun: I heard a buzz from the bee. / Verb: The bee buzzed.
  • Noun: She lets out a long sigh. / Verb: He sighs with longing.

Noun: The car gave off a bang like a gunshot. / Verb: My cousin bangs on pots and pans.

Why Use Onomatopoeias?

When you write, you want to engage your reader. And one way to do that is to make it really easy for the reader to imagine what you’re talking about.

With regular words, the reader can visualize a scene. But when you use onomatopoeias as well, you give the reader access to another sense: sound! They can “hear” what’s happening in your writing, which will draw them further into the text.

Onomatopoeias can make your writing much more exciting, as well. Compare these two examples:

  • A box fell to the floor and glass went everywhere. (regular)
  • A box crashed to the floor and glass shattered everywhere. (onomatopoeia)

In the first example, two events occur: a box falls and glass breaks. In the second example, the exact same things happen, but it feels like there’s more action in the scene.

That’s because “crashed” and “shattered” are onomatopoeias, and the sounds of the words help bring you into the scene.

Therefore, onomatopoeias can create a better picture in your reader’s mind, without adding extra words.

Onomatopoeia Examples

You can describe almost anything with sound words, but there are several categories that have lots of onomatopoeias.

Human Sounds

Many of the words we use to describe vocal sounds are onomatopoeias.

  • Belch
  • Burp
  • Gargle
  • Giggle
  • Groan
  • Guffaw
  • Hiccup
  • Hush
  • Shush
  • Sigh
  • Whisper
  • Yawn

Movement

As well, many movements, whether made by humans, animals, or objects, have sound words associated with them.

  • Bang
  • Beep
  • Boom
  • Clatter
  • Clink
  • Crack
  • Creak
  • Plink
  • Plop
  • Ring
  • Rumble
  • Rustle
  • Sizzle
  • Shatter
  • Slush
  • Splat
  • Squeak
  • Squish
  • Tick-tock
  • Whir

Description

Even verbs or adjectives that describe what something looks like can be onomatopoeias. They just need to suggest a sound or movement.

  • Effervescent
  • Flutter
  • Glisten
  • Shimmer
  • Sparkle
  • Twinkle

Nature Sounds

By using onomatopoeias, we get a clearer picture of the surroundings or atmosphere in a scene. In particular, there are lots of onomatopoeias associated with nature.

Water

  • Dribble
  • Drip
  • Drizzle
  • Drop
  • Ripple
  • Gurgle
  • Gush
  • Slosh
  • Splash
  • Squirt

Air

  • Bubble
  • Hiss
  • Fizz
  • Gush
  • Pop
  • Rush
  • Swoosh
  • Whoosh

Animal

Animal sounds are often onomatopoeias! Here are some common examples:

  • Baa
  • Bark
  • Cheep
  • Cock-a-doodle-doo
  • Cluck
  • Hiss
  • Oink
  • Meow
  • Moo (or “low”)
  • Neigh
  • Purr
  • Quack
  • Roar
  • Squeak
  • Tweet
  • Woof

Sound Effects

Some sound words you might only find in comic books, but they’re examples of onomatopoeias too!

  • Bam!
  • Ding-dong!
  • Kablooey!
  • Pow!
  • Shh!
  • Zap!
  • Zoink!

Famous Examples of Onomatopoeias

Lots of writers, poets in particular, use onomatopoeias to spice up their writing. Here are two examples from famous authors.

First, is Edgar Allan Poe. He makes great use of onomatopoeias in two of his poems. These lines are from The Raven:

  • While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
    As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
    “’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
    Only this and nothing more.

Poe uses “rapping” and “tapping” to describe the light knocking the speaker hears. These verbs create a darker, hushed, more mysterious atmosphere than if Poe had simply written “knocking lightly.”

Now, take a look at this next excerpt from The Bells. Practically the entire poem is onomatopoeic!

  • How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
    In the icy air of night!
    While the stars that oversprinkle
    All the heavens, seem to twinkle
    With a crystalline delight;
    Keeping time, time, time,
    In a sort of Runic rhyme,
    To the tintinabulation that so musically wells
    From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
    Bells, bells, bells—
    From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

A more contemporary author, Shel Silverstein, wrote a poem where every second word is an onomatopoeia. This poem, The Fourth, is extremely short, but it really captures the sounds of fireworks.

  • Oh
    CRASH!
    my
    BASH!
    it's
    BANG!
    the
    ZANG!
    Fourth
    WHOOSH!
    of
    BAROOOM!
    July
    WHEW!

Onomatopoeia Examples in Other Languages

It’s not just English that has onomatopoeias! Lots of other languages have them too. So, when you’re learning a second language, or just hear some words in passing, listen to see if you can find onomatopoeias.

  • Hebrew: nakhash (“snake”)
  • Spanish: pio pio (“tweet”)
  • Dutch: blaf (“woof)
  • Urdu: dhak dhak (“a pattering”)
  • Japanese: kosokoso (“secret whispering”)

Using Onomatopoeias in Your Own Writing

Once you start listening for examples of onomatopoeias, you’ll find them all over the place!

Here are some ways to practice using onomatopoeias:

1. Think about an action, and use as many words as you can to describe the sound you hear. For example:

  • A waterfall pouring over a cliff: rush, gush, crash, smash
  • A teapot boiling: shriek, shrill, hiss, whistle
  • Someone walking with heavy boots: thump, clumb, thud, bump
  • A train pulling into the station: squeal, squeak, rumble, shudder

2. Read other people’s writing, and try to find onomatopoeias. In particular, look at children’s poetry, as kids’ books often use sound. As well, comics are an interesting resource to consider because sound effects are often written down.

3. Practice! The best way to learn to use onomatopoeias is to practice adding them to your writing. Try out lots of different words to see what effects you can create. And always keep experimenting!

Conclusion

Before you know it, you’ll be using onomatopoeias like a pro. And in the meantime, check out the other great grammar articles on this site to help you pack more punch into your writing.

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