Onomatopoeia

Examples of words that mimic the sounds they make
By Stefan Chiarantano

I was having coffee with a colleague when he suddenly asked me if I knew the word in Spanish for dog. "Pero", I said. He was surprised. From there, the conversation led to onomatopoeic words and their relevance in teaching language, and thus, the topic for this piece.

What are onomatopoeic words? These are words that mimic the sounds they represent; the sound of the word imitates the sound the object makes. They have a relationship with the object they describe and signify the signifiers. They imitate, echo, or suggest the object they are describing. Here are some examples:

  • Meow is used to indicate the sound a cat makes.

  • Quack is used to indicate the sound a duck makes.

  • Hiss is used to indicate the sound a snake makes.

  • Gobble is used to indicate the sound a turkey makes.

  • Cluck is used to indicate the sound a chicken makes.

  • Buzz is used to indicate the sound a bee makes.

  • Thud is used to indicate the sound a book makes when it hits the floor.

  • Click is used to indicate the sound a light switch makes when it's turned on or off.

  • Pop is used to indicate the sound a bursting balloon makes.

  • Tic-tock is used to indicate the sound a clock makes.

The sound represents the meaning of the word. Onomatopoeic words can be used as nouns or verbs. Onomatopoeic words aren't perfect though. As my friend asked, does a dog really say bow-wow in other languages? Of course, onomatopoeic words vary from language to language. Should an onomatopoeic word crop up in your class, perhaps, you might consider using it as a jumping point into the world of onomatopoeia.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & Articles© Stefan Chiarantano 2006
Stefan has been teaching English as a foreign language in Asia for the past several years. He presently teaches English in Japan. He's a Canadian with an interest in filmmaking and photography.