Examples of Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is fun to say and onomatapoeic words can give your writing a sense of "boom boom pow," words which are themselves examples of onomatopoeia. Read on for more examples in this excerpt from Word Workout by Charles Harrington Elster.

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read

Onomatopoeia (AHN-uh-MAT-uh-PEE-uh)

Onomatopoeia is the formation or use of a word in imitation of the sound that a thing or an action makes.

Onomatopoeia comes from the Greek onomatopoiia, the making of words, a combination of onoma, a name, and poiein, to make, [and] the ultimate source of the English word poet. The adjective is onomatopoeic (AHN-uh-MAT-uh-PEE-ik). 

Examples of Onomatopoeia

When I was a kid I loved to read comic books about superheroes battling supervillains in a mythic clash between good and evil. Because comics don’t have soundtracks, the illustrator would include big, bold words with exclamation points to depict the sounds of the struggle: Wham! Bash! Crunch! Pow! Kaboom! I didn’t know it then, but all these smashing words were classic examples of onomatopoeia.

“The sound must seem an echo of the sense” proclaimed the 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope, providing us with a concise guideline for creating onomatopoeic words, ones formed in imitation of sound. Today, the English language contains a vast number of onomatopoeic words, most of them short and vivid like the sounds they represent. Many imitate the sounds that animals make: the buzz of a bee; the bowwow of a dog; the croak of a frog; the sibilant hiss of a snake; and the lyrical cock-a-doodle-doo of a rooster. Many others imitate sounds in nature, such as crack, thud, clunk, pop, plop, and whoosh, or the sounds that objects make, such as the ding-dong of a bell; the clackety-clack of a keyboard; the tick-tock of a clock; the bang or rat-a-tat-tat of a gun; and the beep! of almost every dadblamed thing in this digitized age. Still other imitate sounds human beings make that convey meaning, such as shush, pssst, brrrr, ahem, hmmm, pshaw, and phew.

How to Pronounce Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is commonly mispronounced with monna in the middle: ono-MONNA-poeia. Take care to put a mat in the word: onna-MAT-opoeia.

onomatopoeiaThat was an excerpt from Word Workout by Charles Harrington Elster reprinted here with permission from St. Martin’s Griffin. (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound)

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.