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Onomatopoeia: Definition, How It Works & Examples In Writing

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Onomatopoeia is an author’s literary device to show emotions and ideas through sounds.

Since we can’t hear sounds in writing, authors use this creative language to convey their audience’s point.

For example, it’s extremely common to use onomatopoeia when describing the sounds animals make.

What Is Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is a word or group of words that imitate or resemble the sound its describing.

Also Known As:

Here are some other terms that this literary device goes by:

  • Mimicking
  • Echoism
  • Sound symbolism

Simple Definition: How to Explain Onomatopoeia to a Child

You can explain onomatopoeia to a child as a word or phrase that mimics a sound.

It’s a word that sounds like what it means.

Why Is Onomatopoeia Used?

People use onomatopoeia for fun throughout their everyday lives.

You likely use this literary device without even knowing it, and it’s found in various types of content in literature.

Language can be dull, so familiar and uncommon onomatopoeic words bring written language to life.

Types of Onomatopoeia

There are different variations of this literary device.

You can learn how to write a blog post by knowing these differences to help you use them in your writing.

Human Vocals Sounds

Humans make sounds every day that are the result of bodily functions.

Some of the human vocal sounds that are onomatopoeia include:

  • Achoo
  • Chomp
  • Slurp

Sounds made by humans have been turned into words to describe them to others.

In writing, these words provide an image in your mind of what you’d hear.

Device and Object Sounds

Every device and object makes a sound.

Over the years, we’ve given words to these sounds as a way to describe them.

  • Bang
  • Boom
  • Crackle
  • Ping
  • Pop

Phones, clocks, and other objects we use every day make sounds.

The ticking of a clock or the counting down of an alarm is the most popular onomatopoeia used by writers.

Animal Sounds

Authors and other writers turned animal sounds into English words to describe how they sound.

  • Bark
  • Chirp
  • Hoot
  • Howl

Nearly every animal makes a sound.

Writers use the words to describe animal sounds because it’s a better use of descriptive language than simply telling your reader which animal is present.

Animal noises are the most common onomatopoeias found in the written language.

Fictional Sounds

English words were created to identify characters’ sounds in fiction novels and movies.

  • Pew-pew: laser gun
  • Thwip: Spider-Man’s web shooters

Fictional superheroes and superhumans have powers that aren’t real.

With these mythical superpowers, authors create their own words to impact readers.

Most of the words used in comic books and science fiction are made up to drive the action of your story.

While these words aren’t real, they’ve been popular over the years so readers can understand the actions portrayed by the characters.

Comic books have minimal words and mainly convey action and emotion through pictures.

However, adding onomatopoeia words carry along the fast-paced storyline. 

Describing the sound effects alongside the visual vocabulary introduced a new way to read comic books.

Placing these words on the graphic gives the reader a specific sound associated with what is happening in the comic.

How Do You Identify Onomatopoeia?

You identify onomatopoeia by recognizing the sound that’s associated with specific words.

Hearing the sound in your head while reading the word means onomatopoeia is correctly used.

How Do You Use Onomatopoeia in a Sentence?

You use onomatopoeia in a sentence to describe the sound of something.

These single-word phrases get typically placed before an exclamation point.

Sentences with onomatopoeia are commonly seen in comic books and poetry.

When using an onomatopoeia you should also use a hyphen to indicate the pronunciation of the phrase.

That is of course if the onomatopoeia uses more than one word.

What Is the Most Popular Example of Onomatopoeia?

The most famous example of onomatopoeia is the imitation of sounds in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

The entire tale describes the sounds that the narrator hears, but the most popular example is at the end of the story.

He hears the “chirping” of the crickets, the “creaking” of the floorboards, and the lantern turning on.

Edgar Allan Poe is famous for intimating sounds in his work to ensure the reader feels the emotion he’s trying to convey.

Other Famous Examples of Onomatopoeia

Comic books are famous for creating words to convey the sound effects of what’s going on in their writing.

So, for example, the onomatopoeia words are written into the graphics.

Here are some other famous examples of onomatopoeia:

1. Ulysses by James Joyce

Joyce is famous for creating new words that are now known as onomatopoeia examples.

“Tattarrattat” is an example from Ulysses that isn’t a known word in the dictionary.

However, it conveys the knocking on the door that James Joyce wanted to describe.

2. The Fourth by Shel Silverstein

Nearly every other word in this poem conveys a sound.

The poem is about the fireworks that happen on the fourth of July.

Readers can vividly picture what Silverstein wants them to see based on his explosive words.

3. Morte D’Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson was a famous poet of the Victorian era.

He used language to conjure feelings of mystery and sadness in his poems.

“Morte D’Arthur uses onomatopoeia to describe the death of the legendary King Arthur.

Other Modern Examples of Onomatopoeia

If you are curious about things to write about or you’re looking for inspiration for a blog post, check out these modern examples of works that use onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia for Kids

Here are some of the best examples of onomatopoeia usages for kids to help them understand the way this device works:

  • Old Macdonald Had a Farm
  • “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
  • “Our Little Ghost” by Louisa May Alcott

Kids learn to speak by listening to sounds.

This literary device is a great way to introduce kids to words associated with specific sounds.

Onomatopoeia in Literature

In literature, authors naturally include onomatopoeic words in writing.

It’s natural because the word for a particular sound is a commonly used onomatopoeic word.

However, sometimes there’s no way to get around using specific words to convey sounds.  

  • “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper
  • “Running Water” by Lee Emmett
  • “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

These examples are known for their onomatopoeia usage; however, we’ll get into notable authors and more works of literature that use onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia in Poetry

Poetry is the most prevalent writing style that uses onomatopoeia.

However, poets can overuse these words because they want to vividly introduce these sounds in their work.

Nearly all poems use onomatopoeia words to create an image since many poems are only a few lines long.

With fewer words, they need to describe these words accurately.

  • “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe
  • “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning
  • “Rain Dance Poem” by Victoria Reome

There are various types of poetry that writers have used throughout the years.

Whether your poem is a few short lines or multiple stanzas, these poems accurately represent the best uses of onomatopoeia.

Notable Writers Who Used Onomatopoeia

Writers come in many forms meaning they use various literary devices to get their point across to readers.

Here are some notable writers that use onomatopoeia in their works:

Edgar Allan Poe  

“The Raven” is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most significant works.

First, the poem’s speaker is so tired that he’s nearly fallen asleep.

Then, he starts hearing sounds, and Poe uses those repeating noises to show the narrator’s weariness.

William Shakespeare  

William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is his most notable work that uses Onomatopoeia.

You see this technique through the character Ariel who describes the sounds she hears and describes a dog’s bark.

Throughout “The Tempest,” William Shakespeare uses onomatopoeia to describe the sounds heard on the island.

He uses actual words in various ways, known as conventional onomatopoeia.

Emily Dickinson  

Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I heard a Fly Buzz – when I died -” is one of the most famous works of her career.

The poem’s narrator is dying, and the poem references that the speaker hears a fly buzzing.

The buzzing of the fly is the last thing the speaker hears before they die.

What Is the Opposite of Onomatopoeia?

There is no word that is defined as an antonym of onomatopoeia.

The opposite of onomatopoeia is to describe the sounds that a reader would hear rather than imitate them.

If you include non-imitative words then you’re not describing the sound.

Your writing wouldn’t be descriptive and it’d be difficult to convey an image to your readers.

Other Related Literary Devices to Know

If you’re interested in some tips for writing better blog posts, check out these other literary devices that add an extra layer of depth to your writing.

  • Alliteration: An alliteration is the repetition of sounds used in two or more words or syllables.
  • Allusion: An allusion is a direct or indirect reference to another literary work that a reader may be familiar with as they read.
  • Consonance: A consonance is a literary sound device that uses the repetition of consonant sounds throughout a sequence of words.
  • Imagery: Imagery is the descriptive language used by a writer to allow the reader to imagine the world the author has built.
  • Symbolism: Symbolism uses an object or a person to create a particular emotion in a piece of literature.

Writing Tools To Help You Out

These writing tools will save you time and money in the long run while developing your writing styles and techniques.

1. Writing Helpers

Writing helper is software that helps with writing for academic settings.

Work through essays, reports, and dissertations with a writing helper to ensure your putting your best writing forward.

2. AI Writing Software

AI software provides corrections and generates new phrases for your current work.

AI is software for writers to enhance their writing and handle the tedious part of content creation without the hassle or headaches.

Save time by letting the AI writing software write any length content that you need.

If you work better on your own, then let the writing software assist you with the brainstorm process of writing.

2. Grammar Checkers

We’ll show you the top-rated grammar checking tools that ensure your work is easy to read.

Editing tools are perfect for making sure you write in the most concise way.

Having precise spelling and punctuation makes your writing easy to read.

You can insert your draft and get suggestions on how to make your writing better.

Whether its dictionaries or style guides, grammar checkers make sure your tone of voice stays the same.

3. Content Creators

Creators of content are always looking for the best writing tools to help them sound more professional or knowledgeable.

Content creators need a way to stand out from competitors, and this writing tool will have you at the forefront of minds across the internet.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions for people who want to know more about onomatopoeia:

What part of speech is an Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech.

Figure of speech is used when someone expresses a word or phrase in a non-literal sense for either a rhetorical effect or a vivid effect.

In this particular case, a vivid one.

Is WOW an Onomatopoeia?

Wow isn’t an example of onomatopoeia because it’s not the sound of actions someone describes.

Instead, wow is an emotion spoken by someone who is surprised.

Wrapping Up

Using literary devices in writing can assist you in making your writing more relatable and descriptive for your audience.

For example, onomatopoeia is a popular figure of speech used in writing and throughout history.

Show your personality through your writing to help your reader imagine what’s going on in the minds of your characters.

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