Writing

Onomatopoeia in Writing (Definition, How To Write + Examples)

Posted: January 3, 2023
Word count: 1,639 (6 min)

Onomatopoeia is a literary device which helps to define a sound.

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Tomas Laurinavicius

Co-founder & Chief Editor, Best Writing

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What is Onomatopoeia? (Definition)

Onomatopoeia is a literary device which helps to define a sound.

Oxford Learner's Dictionary onomatopoeia definition is: "the fact of words containing sounds similar to the noises they describe, for example hiss; the use of words like this in a piece of writing".

We have heard words like boom, and crash very frequently. These are actually description of the sound that we hear. Well, they do not exactly replicate it, but we get the idea.

I am sure we have all used boom to describe an explosion or crash to describe an accident. Or just meow for a cat? Adorable.

Origins

Onomatopoeia comes from Late Latin, which comes from Greek word onomatopoiia which means "word making". Poiein (Gk) means "to make", and onomat means "name". Hence the word, onomatopoeia.

Explanation

I was walking by the road and then kapow! The bike went right at the tree.

Onomatopoeic words are used something like this. If instead it was said that, I was walking by the road and the bike went right at the tree very loudly, would have made the same meaning, but the effect very different.

The first sentence sounds dramatic, full of life, and real. The second sentence looks empty and just a dead description of the events that look place.

Onomatopoeia can be used in different ways. It can take form of a noun, a verbs, or even an adjective. It can be used in first person narrative, and third person narrative. Let us have a detailed explanation below.

Are onomatopoeic word and onomatopoetic words same? Well, they are synonymous!

Use of Narratives

Onomatopoeic words can be used both in first person and third person narrative sentences. To give an example of onomatopoeia used in a first person point of view let us consider the sentence below:

I was sitting in the cafe when suddenly - bleat - and - pound! There was an old lady with a herd of sheep right inside the sitting area, and they were knocking around the tables!

This is a first person narrative where the narrative themselves are involved in the scenario. The sounds take place in between the narrative and is therefore expressed with symbol " - ".

Now take this for example.

Woof! Sohpie's dog barked as it ran off in the streets after chewing through the leash.

This is a third person narrative and onomatopoeia fits in here perfectly as well. This is a very common third person narrative and the onomatopoeiac word is expressed like any other word.

The format of using onomatopoeic words are same in both the narratives.

Positioning that Onomatopoeia

As said earlier, onomatopoeia can be used in various forms.

Onomatopoeia can be used as verbs. There are a thousand words we have used which are onomatopoeia in our daily lives. Bells jingling? Does it ring a bell? The words jingling and ring are used as verbs in the phrases. More examples of onomatopoeia as verbs are:

I gently tapped on the door.
He smashed the glass into pieces.
There was a violent crash.
The crowd
clapped loudly.
The juice
slushed through the straws into her mouth.
The alka seltzer can
cranked open.
The man
belched every now and then.

Onomatopoeia has been used as nouns since when we do not know. However, we see one everyday. Car crash, fire crackle, and so on. These are placed in such a way that they take the form of nouns. Examples of onomatopoeia as nouns are as follows:

A fire crackle is a comforting sound to hear.
Yesterdays car
crash was all over the news.
The recent
buzz about botox is very irritating.
The big
bang created the universe.
Please record your message after the
beep__.
The
hiss in the grasses made my blood run cold.
I did not hear the telephone
ring__.

What is onomatopoeia in creative writing?

Onomatopoeia has been amply used by writers of all sorts. But mostly, creative writers. We seldom find a newspaper report using words such as glub, plop, clank, and so on.

This is because tools such as onomatopoeia are literary devices that tend to engage the reader's senses and create dimension in the write-up.

Engaging the Reader

Writers use imagery to create scene in the mind of the reader. A good writing will engage all the five senses, or at least give the feeling of engaging. Words tend to give rise to such engagement due to our association with it.

The soft feathers made a tingle in my arms.
One can feel the sense of touch in the sentence.
The crispy chicken melted in my mouth with a burst of sweet spiciness.
This obviously makes my mouth water. So on, and so forth.

Provoking Reader's Imagination

Onomatopoeia, which engages the auditory sense, provoke the reader's imagination as if they were present in the scene of action. Let us compare two sentences.

Sentence 1: There was scary loud noise next door.

Sentence 2: There was scary pounding next door.

Not only the second sentences exactly says what kind of noise one heard next door, but also we can feel the effect of the action, especially when read in context.

Capturing the Moment

Onomatopoeias capture the moment of action perfectly.

Not even ten minutes into paintball and pew pew, I was shot by my own teammate!
The horse went
clip clop - clip clop into the darkness.

Onomatopoeias bring the action in the present, and makes writing realistic.

Show, Don't Tell

Good writing does not always describe things from afar. The writer has to get into the dirt and work within the story.

With onomatopoeia words the writer can bring action right on the pages. Action here refers to all the things that are going on in the story.

I got hungry by the minute. Ding dong! The bell rang. The food is here.
I got hungry by the minute. The bell rang. The food is here.

Both the sentences express the same meaning, but the former shows the ringing of the bell, whereas the latter does not. Onomatopoeia sound words in the first sentence brings life in the description.

What is an example of onomatopoeia in writing?

There is a host of onomatopoeia words that come from the sound of real life things like animals, actions, mechanical and even sound words. Then there are sounds we hear everyday like sound of a sneeze achhoo, gargle, and so on.

Animal Noises

Meow Bark Woof

Moo Quack Buzz

Bleat Hiss Croak

Words like buzz come from insects like flies. Zyzzyx is a wasp-like insect which is after the sound it makes, that is zyzzyx.

Mechanical Sounds

Drill Drum Drizzle

Clank Rumbling Thump

Pound Pump Throab

Action Words

Onomatopoeia examples in action words are:

Crash Puff Drip

Bounce Flash Rattle

Swoosh Tick Swish

Musical Sounds

Jingle Tinkle Drum

Jangle Chime Gong

Oompah Ting Twang

Sound Words

Sigh Gush Phew

Sizzle Whip Sshh

Snore Murmur Barf

Clap Crunch Holler

Gasp Barf Yell

Whine Sneeze Wallop

Nibble Mutter Hush

How do authors use onomatopoeia?

Authors use onomatopoeia in story, poetry, and other sorts of creative writing. Other literary devices like alliteration, assonance are used to heighten the sense of onomatopoeia, especially if spoken aloud.

Examples of Onomatopoeia in Literature

  • "Be not afeard; the isle is full of noisesSounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instrumentsWill hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices…"The Bells, Edgar Allan Poe
  • "It’s a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes. The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts. The banjo tickles and titters too awful. The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers. The cartoonists weep in their beer." 'Honky Tonk in Cleaveland, Ohio' by Carl Sandberg
  • "the Bar. tinking luscious jigs dint of ripe silver with warm-lyish wetflat splurging smells waltz the glush of squirting taps plus slush of foam knocked off and a faint piddle-of-drops she says I ploc spittle what the lands thaz me kid in no sir hopping sawdust you kiddohe's a palping wreaths of badly Yep cigars who jim him why gluey grins topple together eyes pout gestures stickily point made glints squinting who's a wink bum-nothing and money fuzzily mouths take big wobbly footsteps every goggle cent of it get out ears dribbles soft right old feller belch the chap hic summore eh chuckles skulch...." 'i was sitting in mcsorley's', E. E. Cummings

Examples of Onomatopoeia in Other (Creative Writing

Onomatopoeia sounds different in different languages. It is very normal to think that a dog's bark or a cat's meow will be represented similarly in all the languages. But that is not the case. The representation of sounds vary in different languages.

For example, a woof in English language sounds like arf and represented in Spanish as "guau", or "wan wan" in Japanese language.

Writing Prompts

  • “It had snowed lightly in the night and her frozen hair was gold and crystalline and her eyes were frozen cold and hard as stones.” (The Passenger, by Cormac McCarthy)
  • “It was a terrible thing to know you were going to die and not be able to do anything to prevent it. She tried anyway...” (The Innocent One, Lisa Ballantyne)
  • "Western thought began with an attack on religious myth by philosophers who held that the highest truth must be non-narrative and timeless. They left a paradox to haunt us: for on the one hand everyone knows that stories are important to us and our religion is full of them, while on the other hand stories continue to have a bad name as myths or fictions." (What is a Story?, by Don Cupitt) Take the above prompts and recreate them into something more pompous, creative, and fantastic at the first glance!
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