by Craig Shrives

What Is Onomatopoeia? (with Examples)

Onomatopoeia is the use of words that imitate the sound they describe.
onomatopoeia examples

Easy Examples of Onomatopoeia

A lot of onomatopoeic words relate to:
  • Our voices
    • bawl, belch, chatter, giggle, growl, grunt, mumble, murmur, whisper
  • Air
    • flap, flutter, fizz, hiss, swish, swoosh, waft, whiff, whoosh, whizz
  • Water
    • dribble, drip, drizzle, gurgle, plop, splash, sploosh, sprinkle, squirt
  • Collisions
    • bang, clang, clank, clap, clatter, click, clink, ding, dong, jingle, jangle, screech, slap, smack, smash, thud, thump
  • Animal noises
    • baa, bark, buzz, cheep, chirp, cluck, meow, moo, neigh, oink, purr, quack, ribbit, tweet, warble

Real-Life Examples of Onomatopoeia

  • The NASA humans-to-Mars program is all sizzle and no steak. (Aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin)
  • ("Sizzle" sounds like steak frying.)
  • When you put something on, you zip yourself into it, and you're secure in there. (Fashion designer L'Wren Scott)
  • ("Zip" sounds like a zip being operated.)
  • Love and a cough cannot be hidden. (Welsh poet George Herbert)
  • ("Cough" sounds like a cough.)
Onomatopoeic words can represent the noise itself, an object, or an action.
  • I could hear the sizzle of the sausage.
  • (The noise itself)
  • This sausage is a real sizzler.
  • (An object)
  • The sausage sizzled on the fire.
  • (An action)
A word with onomatopoeic property in one meaning might not have it in another.
  • If you tap the bottom, the cork will pop out the top.
  • ("Pop" sounds like a cork existing a bottle.)
  • If you tap your bottom, the bodyguard will pop out the room.
  • (In this context, "pop" is not an onomatopoeic word.)
Onomatopoeia is useful in poetry, creative writing, and even business writing as it brings writing to life by appealing to the hearing sense.

That aside, if you're analysing someone else's writing and they've used onomatopoeia, you ought to recognize it. This means you will need to spell "onomatopoeia." If you don't have access to a spellchecker, here's a tip: Trust yourself to get it right as far as the "p" and then write just the vowels in the word "comedian."

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