Onomatopoeia in English Part 1

Category: Education/Family


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. chug / tʃʌg / (v.) – to slowly move forward while making repeatedly low sounds (like an engine)

    You can hear the old train chugging up the hill by my house every day around three o’clock.

  2. screech / skritʃ / (v.) – to produce a high, unpleasant sound

    The car screeched to a stop when the driver stepped on the brakes hard.

  3. clatter / ˈklæt ər / (v.) – to make a series of short, loud sounds from hard objects repeatedly hitting each other

    The pots and pans clattered when I accidentally dropped them.

  4. out loud / aʊt laʊd / (adv.) – speaking loud enough so that others can hear

    The student read the poem out loud.

  5. speech bubble / spitʃ ˈbʌb əl / (n.) – a rounded shape containing words that show what a comic character is saying

    Okay, please read the next speech bubble.


Read the text below.

Onomatopoeia words are sound words; they resemble the sounds they mean. Take, for example, the word “bang”: “He lifted the gun and — bang, bang, bang! — he shot three times.” They are often used in comics or poetry, where sound is important.

Many onomatopoeia words come from the sounds of vehicles and machines. “Crash” is a sound word you probably already know. You can hear the terrible sound of a train crash in the word “crash.” A train chugs along like the sound of an old steam train. Toddlers will say a train “goes choo-choo.” A car or train may screech to a stop with the sound of the brakes. Fast cars go “vroom!”

Machines or noisy objects will bam, clang, clank, clatter and clink. When you say the words out loud, you can hear the noisy machine, can’t you? A household alarm clock rings and a computer beeps when it wants to tell you something.

Many animal sounds are onomatopoeia. A dog barks or woofs, a cat meows or purrs, a duck quacks and a chicken clucks. Onomatopoeia can be either verbs or nouns in English. You can say “my dog is barking loudly” or “my dog has a very loud bark.” Or you will see “bark bark bark” written in a speech bubble next to a barking dog in a cartoon.

Snakes hiss. People also hiss as a sign of disapproval. An audience watching a terrible performance will hiss to let the performers know that they aren’t enjoying it. If you say something to someone quietly and with anger, this is also called hissing: “‘Be quiet!’ hissed Tom to the children.” (Rob Horn)

To be continued…

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Onomatopoeia words often differ greatly from language to language. What English onomatopoeia words do you know for animal sounds (ex. “woof woof” for dogs, “meow” for cats)? What are the onomatopoeia words for those animal sounds in your native language? In your opinion, which language is closer to the real animal sound? Discuss.
  • In your experience, is it easy to guess the meaning of English onomatopoeia words without studying them, or are they difficult to understand only from the sound? Why? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Onomatopoeia words are often used in comics or poetry, where sound is important. In your opinion, are English comics and poetry easier or harder to read than regular articles and stories? Why? Discuss.
  • Where else do you think onomatopoeia can be useful (ex. songs, storytelling)? Why? Discuss.