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20 English onomatopoeias

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1 November, 2022
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Have you ever heard a dog bark or seen a duck splash about in the water and thought, “wow, that sounds exactly how I would describe those actions”? Then you’ve encountered English onomatopoeias.

What is an onomatopoeia?

This linguistic term might sound complicated, but you probably use them every day without realising it. An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like its meaning, and it originally comes from the Greek word ‘onoma’ (meaning ‘name’) and ‘poiein’ (meaning ‘to make’).

Why do we use onomatopoeias?

Onomatopoeias are a popular form of figurative language – linguistic devices often used by advertising agencies and writers to help better engage with their audiences. This is because when we read words such as ‘roar’ or ‘crash’, we are not just hearing a word, but the sound that the word is describing – thus allowing us to conjure up a more vivid image in our heads.

See some great examples of popular advertising slogans below, with the onomatopoeias in bold:

  • “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” – Rice Krispies
  • “Bang! And the dirt is gone” – Cillit Bang cleaning products
  • “Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop” – Pringles

 

But onomatopoeias aren’t just handy for marketing – they also add color into everyday conversations. For students learning English as a second (or third) language, they are an easy way to include humor or flair in your storytelling.

Examples of ENGLISH onomatopoeias

English onomatopoeias can generally be grouped into five different categories: animal noises, human noises, explosive sounds, movements of water, air or objects, and musical sounds. Here are some examples of each:

 

Animal noises

“The ducks love to quack loudly”

“The bees busily buzz

“The dog ran to bark at the postman”

“The birds are happy to chirp in the morning”

 

Human noises

“The man went “achoo!” when he sneezed”

“I hope she’s okay, her cough sounds bad”

“She did a loud burp after drinking a can of cola”

“She let out a blood-curdling scream

 

Explosive sounds

“They heard a loud crash after the car hit the wall”

“The gun went bang when it was fired”

“The fireworks went BOOM in the sky”

“The superhero went to zap the villain”

 

Movements of water, air, or objects

“The child wanted to splash his friends in the pool”

“Outside, she heard the storm howl in the night”

“The wind went whoosh in the woman’s face”

“The clock went tick-tock

 

Musical sounds

“For the finale, the cymbal went cling!”

Jingle bells, jingle bells”

Strum the guitar”

“The violin made a horrible squeak when she first tried to play”

 

FUN FACT: Did you know that other countries have their own onomatopoeias? Every language interprets common sounds differently. How do you say these sounds where you’re from?

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