What Is Onomatopoeia? | Definition & Examples

Onomatopoeia is creating or using words that imitate the sound of the thing they describe. This can involve animal calls (“meow” for a cat vocalization), machine noises (“vroom” for an engine sound), or descriptions of actions (“pow” for a blow).

Onomatopoeia is usually an uncountable noun, but onomatopoeic words are sometimes called onomatopoeias.

Onomatopoeia examples
Set your smartphone to airplane mode so it does not beep during the movie.
The old door creaked open.
The sound of the horse’s neigh echoed through the night.

The heavy book landed on the table with a thud.

Onomatopoeia is common in everyday conversations, advertising slogans, and literature.

What is onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech in which a word phonetically resembles the sound of the thing it describes. With regular words, the connection between the word and its meaning is rather arbitrary. For example, there is no good reason why a flat surface with four legs is called “a table.” Conversely, with onomatopoeia, words sound like the thing they describe.

Onomatopoeia is not limited to animal calls or natural phenomena but can also extend to various sounds like those associated with machines, eating and drinking, or collision sounds.

Why use onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia, just like other sound devices (e.g., alliteration or assonance), is used in literature to engage with the reader’s auditory sense and enhance their overall reading experience. Writers use onomatopoeia for various reasons:

  • Vividness: Onomatopoeia brings descriptions to life and helps readers better visualize the action and hear the sounds within a narrative.
  • Visual representation of sounds: In comics and graphic novels, words that express impact or movement, like “pow” or “swoosh,” are a staple of visual storytelling vocabulary. Writing out sounds adds to the intensity or excitement of the scene.
  • Aural appeal: Onomatopoeia, when used effectively, contributes to the rhythm of the text and enhances its appeal, making it more enjoyable and engaging for the reader.
  • Conciseness: Instead of lengthy descriptions, writers can use onomatopoeia to convey sounds of movement or actions more efficiently.

Onomatopoeia examples

Onomatopoeia is used to describe sounds ranging from natural elements to movement or impact.

Water sounds
bubble sizzle
drizzle slosh
drip splash
gurgle splatter
gush splosh
plop sprinkle
ripple trickle
Human sounds
belch hiccup sniff
chuckle hiss sob
cough holler whisper
gasp hush yawn
giggle moan yell
groan mumble yelp
gulp sigh yodel
Animal sounds
baa (sheep) chirp (bird/cricket) meow (cat) quack (duck)
bark (dog/seal) cluck (chicken) moo (cow) ribbit (frog)
bleat (goat) hiss (snake) neigh (horse) roar (lion/tiger)
buzz (bee) honk (duck/goose) oink (pig) squeak (mouse)
caw (crow) howl (wolf) purr (cat) woof (dog)
Movement/impact sounds
bang clang crunch rustle swoosh tick-tock
boom clash flutter shuffle swish swirl
bump click jingle sizzle swirl woosh
chime crackle ping slam thud wham
clack crash pop smash thump zoom

Frequently asked questions about onomatopeia

Can onomatopoeia be found in literature?

Onomatopoeia is often used in literature to create a more impactful and immersive reading experience.

For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling uses onomatopoeia to vividly describe the moment Hagrid, the groundskeeper at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, comes to collect Harry and knocks down the door:

SMASH! The door was hit with such force that it swung clean off its hinges and with a deafening crash landed flat on the floor.”

What is an example of onomatopoeia in advertising?

An example of onomatopoeia in advertising is the Rice Krispies slogan “Snap! Crackle! Pop!”

The popular cereal brand was marketed on the basis of the sound it makes when milk is added to it. Onomatopoeia is often used in advertising to create memorable catchphrases and, by extension, products.

What is onomonopia?

“Onomonopia” is an incorrect spelling of the word “onomatopoeia.”

Onomatopoeia refers to the formation of words that resemble the sound they are referencing, but it also refers to the words created from this process. Examples of onomatopoeia include the “buzz” of a bee, the “zap” of an electrical discharge, or the “beep” of a machine.

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Kassiani Nikolopoulou, MSc

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.