Onomatopoeia: What is Onomatopoeia? Discovering Sound Words in English (Examples)

By Carly Forsaith, updated on June 29, 2023

Do you want to learn more about onomatopoeia? Then you've come to the right place! This article will teach you everything you need to know about what it is and how to use it in your writing.

In short:

  • Onomatopoeia is a word that represents a sound by using letters to spell out the way it sounds.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Is Onomatopoeia?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines onomatopoeia as:

  • "the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it".

So yes, an onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the noise it imitates. That could be an animal, an action, an object, an exclamation, or just a general sound.

The word comes from the Greek onoma meaning 'word,' and poiein meaning 'make.' As the name gives away, an onomatopoeia makes a new word, and it does that by imitating a sound. So if you wanted to make your own onomatopoeia, you could; listen to what you hear and try to spell it out into a word. Although chances are, it already exists.

So are onomatopeias listed in the dictionary?

  • Well, the most common ones are.
  • Many aren't, but as they get used increasingly, they'll eventually land their very own spot in the book.

Here are some examples of onomatopoeia you've probably heard before:

  • Bark
  • Meow
  • Scratch
  • Boom
  • Crash
  • Whack
  • Drip
  • Ring ring
  • Splash
  • Achoo
  • Boo
  • Honk
  • Pop
  • Splash
  • Phew
  • Hmm

How to Use Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeias are most commonly used as nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Let's take a look at some examples of each.

Here are some examples of onomatopoeias used as nouns:

There was a big crash.

The lion let out a loud roar.

I have a scratch on my arm.

Now some examples of adjectives:

I love crunchy peanut butter.

We need to fix these squeaky hinges.

The squealing pig rolled around the mud with delight.

And here are some examples of onomatopoeic verbs:

She pulled over as she'd heard a rattling sound in her car.

Don't you aha me!

Do you have to whistle so loudly?

An exclamation point often follows onomatopoeias when used as standalone words (for example, in comics).

Why Should You Use Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is a literary device often employed in great writing, but why should you use them?

  • The biggest reason is that it's an excellent tool for drawing your reader in and engaging them with your text.
  • More than just describing a sound, an onomatopoeia imitates it. In fact, when you read a text passage that contains one, it's not uncommon to make the sound rather than simply read the word.
  • They also, in this way, conjure up an image in your reader's mind. When you read the word 'boom,' you can almost picture the orange flames of an explosion. In this way also, your writing becomes more engaging to the reader.
  • And finally, it's a way to be playful with language. Language and grammar can be so complex that we forget to have fun with them.

Onomatopoeia is fun to read, but it's also fun to write!

More Examples of Onomatopeia

Now we've covered what onomatopoeia is, as well as how and why to use it in your writing; let's take a look at some more examples of this literary device in a sentence.

This social media post is getting a lot of clicks

My son got gifted lots of squishy toys for his birthday.

I didn't get any sleep last night as there was a bee buzzing around my ear most of the night.

There's no better feeling than sitting by a crackling fire.

The balloon popped under the pressure. 

Did you hear that dog howling all night?

Don't you snap your fingers at me

Now she can talk she just chitter-chatters all day long. 

Let's hurry, the clock is ticking, tick-tock!

I've got the hiccups again.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on onomatopoeia and how to use it in your writing. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Onomatopeia represents a sound by spelling it out.
  • It's a literary device.
  • Verbs, nouns, and adjectives can be onomatopeias.
  • Onomatopoeia helps draw your readers in and engage them.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our Grammar Book, a free online database of grammar articles like this one. You'll get all your grammar questions answered there.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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