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350+ Onomatopoeia Examples for Writers (& Kids at Heart)…

Looking for onomatopoeia examples so you can give your writing some extra oomph? You’ve come to the right place.

Flip to any random Batman comic page. Instantly, you’re an earwitness to a fantastical wham-bam-ka-powerful superhero fight scene, made possible by onomatopoeia!

It’s a proven literary gem that draws readers in like buzzing bees to honey.

And in this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about onomatopoeia, including:

  • Examples of onomatopoeia in classical and modern day writing (not just comics);
  • Definitions and differences between onomatopoeia and other sound-based literary devices;
  • Benefits of adding onomatopoeia’s sensory element to your words;
  • 350+ sound words that’ll immediately power-up your own writing.

Let’s get crackin’!

Onomatopoeia Examples for Writers (& Kids at Heart)

What Onomatopoeia Is (and Isn’t)

At first glance, the word ‘onomatopoeia’ is slightly intimidating:

  • How do you pronounce onomatopoeia?
  • What is onomatopoeia and how is it different from other literary devices?

So, a little groundwork:

What’s the Definition of Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is the creation of and rhetorical use of words that phonetically imitate or suggest the actual sound that they describe.

Pronounced [aa – nuh – maa – tuh – pee – uh], onomatopoeia’s etymology traces back to two words in the Greek language, which suggest its meaning:

  • ‘onoma’, meaning ‘name’, and
  • ‘poiein’, meaning ‘to make’ (poem and poet have the same origin).

As our language evolves, sometimes we create words to specifically imitate the sound they represent. It’s no surprise that onomatopoeic words are comparable across different languages, conveying similar sounds. For instance, the Spanish word for a turkey sound is ‘gluglú gluglú’, which sounds very similar to the English language interpretation of ‘gobble gobble’.

Most words that demonstrate onomatopoeia can be categorized into five groups of sounds:

  • Animal sounds (bow-wow, oink, cock-a-doodle-doo)
  • Collision or explosive sounds (boom, crash, clang)
  • Musical sounds (toot, clang, pluck)
  • Movement of water, air, or objects (puff, vroom, rustle)
  • Human sounds (sneeze, belch, cough)

There are also many animals, insects, birds, and objects onomatopoeically named for the sound they make. Here’s a short list:

  • Bobwhite
  • Chickadee
  • Cuckoo
  • Owl
  • Killdeer
  • Whippoorwill
  • Bumblebee
  • Katydid
  • Cricket
  • Zyzzyx (an insect!)
  • Flip-flops

As young children, we were first introduced to animal sounds through onomatopoeia. Words to describe animal sounds, like a dog’s bark, a cat’s meow, or cow’s moo are phonetically similar to the actual sound that the animal makes.

Animal sounds are fun sound words, but onomatopoeia rules get a little tricky when we refer to sounds made by humans.

What’s the Difference Between Onomatopoeia and Interjections?

Human words of expression like ‘wow’ and ‘oops’ are often incorrectly labeled as onomatopoeia words. The distinction here is that these one- or two-word interjections are the actual words uttered instead of an onomatopoeic word that suggests the sound of the utterance.

To illustrate, let’s compare some human interjections (typically emotionally-packed) with with their phonetically descriptive onomatopoeia counterparts:

Interjections Onomatopoeic words
ugh grunt
he he he snicker
eeek scream
hey shout

What’s the Difference Between Onomatopoeia and Other Sound-Based Literary Devices?

Alliteration, assonance, and consonance are stylistic literary devices that repeat words with similar beginning sounds, vowel sounds or consonant sounds to set a tone or create a mood.

Like your 87-year-old grandma at the Thanksgiving table, onomatopoeia is more direct. Used correctly, onomatopoeia is the most straightforward and efficient literary device to convey sounds that you want readers to “hear”.

Benefits of Using Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia engages your readers’ senses by drawing attention to sounds through the use of phonetically similar words. When you leverage literary devices and inject sensory words like onomatopoeia in your work, your words become more powerful, memorable and influential.

As a type of figurative language, onomatopoeia uses imitation to name things or describe sounds, producing a dramatic and more engaging effect on your readers.

Think of onomatopoeia as a ‘twofer’ sound descriptor. Onomatopoeia words simultaneously describe and imitate sounds with the help of their verbal pronunciation.

For example, when pronounced out loud, words like ‘beep’, ‘clack’, and ‘hiccup’ instantly suggest specific sounds – sounds you’re familiar with and related to specific actions.

Let’s observe the sound effects of onomatopoeia at work by comparing these two sentences:

  • He silenced his phone alarm as he jumped out of bed, eager to start his first day on the job.
  • He jabbed at his squawking phone as he whooshed out of bed, eager to start his first day on the job.

Onomatopoeia enables readers to better connect with the scene: to “hear” the obnoxious alarm and the young man’s finger rapidly tapping at his phone, and sense a quick flip of blankets as he hops out of bed. As a writer, onomatopoeia gives you the tools to compose an elaborate symphony of sounds that’ll stimulate your reader’s imagination.

Onomatopoeia earns bonus points too because sensory words like these make it easier for readers to remember what they’ve read. Memories start with our senses, so artfully select onomatopoeic sound words (and other sensory words) that’ll captivate your readers and make your message unforgettable.

Let’s take a look at onomatopoeia in action with some classic examples.

Examples of Onomatopoeia

Time-honored works of literary greats and poets swarm our senses with onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia in Literature & Poetry

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban’s observations about the sounds on his island includes two onomatopoeia words:

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices…”

In his famous poem, The Bells, American poet Edgar Allan Poe used sound words to represent diminishing tones of bells to signify the four stages of life (childhood, youth, middle-age, and death).

Onomatopoeia is prevalent throughout, but as the poem progresses the final lines of each stanza contain symbolic onomatopoeic sound words harmonious with the life stages described.

The light sound of bells in this excerpt from the first stanza signifies a carefree childhood:

“…From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.”

The second stanza continues with the joyous wedding bells of youth:

“…To the rhyming and chiming of the bells!”

Moving on, the third stanza suggests a more daunting awareness of the end of life:

“…In the clamor and clangor of the bells!”

Finally, death is represented in the fourth stanza by the sounds of somber funeral bells:

“…To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.”

Coincidentally, Mr. Poe coined the onomatopoeic word tintinnabulation in the first stanza of this poem, which suggests a familiar tinkling of bells.

But, if there’s an award for the longest onomatopoeia word, James Joyce gets the prize!

Irish novelist, James Joyce introduced ten 100+ character onomatopoeic words to describe thunder in his last book, Finnegan’s Wake.  His most famous word is a hybrid of thunder-related words from many languages and represents the thunderous fall of Adam and Eve. (In this instance, the word ‘clap’ just wouldn’t have the same effect!)

“The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-
ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthur-
nuk
!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on
life down through all Christian minstrelsy.”

This JoyceGeek YouTube video explores origins and clarifies the pronunciation of this thunder word:

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