Onomatopoeia Definition and Examples

Onomatopoeia: What it is and How You Can Use It

Although onomatopoeia sounds like a word you don’t know, we’re pretty sure you’ve used it quite often even if you didn’t realize it! Writers use onomatopoeia in their works to convey a specific sound. If you’ve ever come across a word that you think sounds like the very sound it makes, you can safely call it onomatopoeia. 

In this lesson, you will understand what exactly this fascinating word means, when and where it’s used, and how you can use it in your work too. Most importantly, you will learn about onomatopoeia with the help of examples so you can get a complete grasp of it. 

What is Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it’s describing. 

When you come across an onomatopoetic word, you can hear the sound of the word that is described.  The term onomatopoeia in Greek means “creating or making names,” which means imitating sound using written text. 

For example, when you read the word splash, you can associate it with the sound of something that is falling into the water. Other examples of onomatopoeia would be words like swoosh, roar, mumble, slam, etc. 

By imitating the sounds that you come across in your daily life, onomatopoeia enhances the feeling, or the sense associated with that particular word. While they don’t mean anything more than the sound they make, they seem to have a significant effect on the way words are written, read, and understood. 

If you’re a fan of comic books, you know they are full of onomatopoeia. The panels in comic books are full of bubbles that include words like zap, bang, crash, and pow. In other forms of texts, onomatopoeia can even act as sentences or interjections that standalone. 

Example 1: I was walking down the lane when–bam! –a gigantic cat leaped over my shoulder from nowhere. 

Example 2: Swoosh! The ball flew by me like an invisible flash of light. 

What is the Role of Onomatopoeia?

Now that you know how onomatopoeia can make sentences powerful, it is important to understand where they can be used appropriately. Although onomatopoetic words are self-descriptive, they aren’t necessarily centered around adjectives. You can use them to enable readers to see or hear instead of just read. The following example shows how onomatopoeia can make a huge difference in the way we read and understand a sentence. 

Example (with onomatopoeia): We sat huddled by the crackling fire as the rain splattered, and the thunder rumbled

Example (without onomatopoeia): We sat by the fire as it rained heavily, and the thunder continued. 

The above example shows how onomatopoeia brings a sentence to life. The first sentence describes the fire, rain, and thunder by bringing their intensities to light. However, the second sentence fails in that area because it doesn’t tell us enough about each of these things. 

Onomatopoeia can be used as nouns, verbs, and adjectives. You can either use them as interjections or add them to the overall flow of your sentence. Here are a few examples of onomatopoetic words that can be used in different forms.  

  • As an adjective

Example 1: The evening was beautiful, with dazzling lights and rhythmic songs. 

Example 2: The shepherd guided his bleating sheep toward the cottage. 

  • As a noun 

Example 1: The child jumped into the pool with a splash.

Example 2: The room was filled with the nostalgic chatter of the good old school days. 

  • As a verb

Example 1: I gasped when I saw him covered in dirt. 

Example 2: The engine finally roared to life after several exhausting efforts.

When you use these words, the reader can easily understand the type of environment that has been associated with the onomatopoetic words and the overall sentence. 

Onomatopoeia in Poetry

To better understand the usage of onomatopoeia in poetry, we can read the poem called “The Bell” by Edgar Allen Poe. 

“’How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear it fully knows,

By the twanging

And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows;

Yet the ear distinctly tells,

In the jangling

And the wrangling,

How the danger sinks and swells, –

By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells,

Of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells –

In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!”

Words like clash, clang, roar, clamor, clangor, and jangling paint a particularly dissonant noise that the bells create. By using these onomatopoetic words, Poe creates a sinister and dark mood and the readers feel it word by word! This is the power of onomatopoeia. 

What Can Onomatopoeic Words be Used For?

The two most common things onomatopoeia is used for are:

1. Naming Things 

There are several things that are called by the way they sound. One such example includes the word zipper

The reason we use onomatopoeic words is to express with better clarity. A few examples of onomatopoeic words associated with regular words include:

Example 1: Wet – soaked, drenched.

Example 2: Loud explosion – bang, kaboom.

2. Making New Words 

There are several onomatopoeic words that are used quite commonly. So much so, that they closely imitate the sounds they make. This is why there are many (new and old) onomatopoeic words that become an integral part of the dictionary.

For example, the word slap sounds like skin striking against skin. This word was used so widely that it quickly became a part of our vocabulary. The same thing goes for the word cuckoo. This is because the name of the bird itself resembles the sound that the bird makes. 

How to Use Onomatopoeia?

Now that you’ve understood what onomatopoeia is and how it works, you can start using it to strengthen your writing too. You can do so by simply creating an environment that is associated with a sound or come up with a word that imitates the sound you want to write about. Consider the following sentences as examples:

Sentence without onomatopoeic words: The motorcycle got out of control and hit the blue wall. Sentence with onomatopoeic words: The motorcycle screeched loudly and crashed against the blue wall.

Just by associating a sound with a scene, you can always evoke onomatopoeic words to make a sentence more meaningful and expressive. Onomatopoeia is helpful in so many ways. By understanding the tone, texture, feel, sound, and images of a word, we can not only widen our scope for English Literature but also hear and feel what our books say.


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