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’!
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:
- Zyzzyx (an insect!)
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:
|he he he||snicker|
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-
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:
Moving into more relatable works, Robert Frost’s nostalgic admiration of the Birches uses onomatopoeia to fill our senses with the sounds of the trees as air moves through them:
“…After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel…”
In children’s poetry, Jack Prelutsky’s onomatopoeically entitled poem, Boing! Boing! Squeak! captivates young listeners and parents alike with his tale of his clamorous little visitor:
“Boing! Boing! Squeak!
Boing! Boing! Squeak!
A bouncing mouse is in my house,
it’s been here for a week…
…that mouse continues bouncing
every minute of the day,
it bounces bounces bounces
but it doesn’t bounce away…”
Another adorable Prelutsky children’s poem uses sound words to activate the young listener’s sense of taste. His onomatopoeic name for delicious little morsels that beg to be eaten is Yubbazubbies:
“Yubbazubbies, you are yummy,
you are succulent and sweet,
you are splendidly delicious,
quite delectable to eat,
how I smack my lips with relish
when you bump against my knees,
then nuzzle up beside me,
chirping, ‘Eat us if you please!’…”
As we shift into other genres, we’ll discover that the use of onomatopoeia is a reliable and prevalent marketing tool.
Onomatopoeia in Pop Culture
Onomatopoeia is used in all aspects of pop culture to influence and attract the senses of consumers.
Snappy Brands and Slogans
Due to its sensory appeal, onomatopoeia is often used in branding and advertising. Faced with the challenge of conveying taste to consumers, food marketing gurus carefully choose sound words to appeal to their consumers’ taste buds. Non-food marketing projects use onomatopoeia to appeal to consumers’ needs or desires (like to drive fast)!
This vintage Rice Krispies commercial is a classic example of their “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” slogan and onomatopoeically-named mascots:
You’re likely familiar with these onomatopoeic brands and slogans:
- Tweeting on Twitter
- Krispy Kreme
- Cap’n Crunch
- Pop Tarts
- Pop Rocks
- Tic Tacs
- Wham-O Toys
- Kaboom Energy Drink
- Zoom Video Communications
- Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz (oh what a relief it is)”
- Mazda’s “Zoom, Zoom”
Of course, onomatopoeia is extremely influential in other popular culture media like music and other forms of entertainment.
Pop-ular Music, Film and TV Shows (and Comics)
Remember the lyrics of Ylvis’ “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” playing on repeat in your head in 2013? A big thanks goes in part to the onomatopoeia animal sounds woven into the lyrics. (Apologies for the earworm!)
Back in the 70’s, Todd Rundgren refreshed listeners on the concept of onomatopoeia with his song of the same name. The sound words in the lyrics help describe the “feeling in (his) heart”:
“…It’s sort of lub, dub, lub, dub
A sound in my head that I can’t describe
It’s sort of zoom, zip, hiccup, drip
Ding, dong, crunch, crack, bark, meow, whinnie, quack…”
Contemporary artist Charli XCX sings about a different sound to her heart in the her 2014 hit, “Boom Clap” (the beat goes on and on…):
Onomatopoeia gave moviegoers clues to the sounds made by the automobile in the movie based on Ian Fleming’s 1960’s story entitled “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang”.
The classic ‘60’s Batman TV series flashed onomatopoeia words like “Wham!”, “Pow!” and “Clunk!” during fight scenes, which paralleled the experience of reading a printed comic book.
Before we move on to onomatopoeia examples in content marketing, here’s a special onomatopoeia video for all the Batman die-hards:
Booming Communications & Content Marketing
We’ve seen how the use of onomatopoeia engages fans and consumers by engaging their senses. Content marketers connect with readers’ senses by sprinkling sound words into email subject lines to keep them interested.
Here are some clever examples that created a buzz just this month:
Headers and subheads are easy onomatopoeia targets as well. The following examples were found in Smart Blogger posts:
As a writer of consumable content, it’s your mission to make it easy for your readers to cling onto your words.
And strategically using onomatopoeia words is a great way to make it happen.
The Definitive List of Onomatopoeic Words: 366 Examples of Onomatopoeia That’ll Give Your Writing Some Extra Oomph
We’ve gone over quite a few examples of onomatopoeia in this post, but we’ve merely scratched the surface.
Below, you’ll find the web’s largest list of onomatopoeia examples. Bookmark and reference them, as needed.
Collision / Explosion Sounds
Blab / Blabber
Blub / Blubber
Sounds of Movement
Crush It with Onomatopoeia!
Here’s the hard truth:
Lifeless, boring content loses readers.
Boom! They’re gone in an instant.
The use of onomatopoeia and other literary devices in your writing create the captivating sensory links that your readers cling to. Of course, practice improves the effect!
And with this mega-list of onomatopoeia sound words in hand, you’re ready to bang out some sound-packed passages.
You’re gonna crush this!