Discover our guide with onomatopoeia examples in literature to help you understand this quirky literary device. Use it in your novels, essays and short stories!
Onomatopoeia is a literary device that can make your writing more interesting. Learning how to use onomatopoeia words in your writing will better engage the reader and make them truly picture what you’re writing about.
Onomatopoeic examples in literature are words made from the sound that they name. When you read these words, you can hear the sound in the word itself.
Studying onomatopoeia examples is one of the best ways to learn how to use this type of word in your writing. This guide will explore these words and how to use them appropriately as you write your own pieces.
- The Definition of Onomatopoeia
- Onomatopoeia Examples to Add to Your Writing
- Onomatopoeia Examples in Literature
- 1. The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe
- 2. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
- 3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
- 4. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
- 5. The Fourth by Shel Silverstein
- 6. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- 7. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
- 8. Ulysses by James Joyce
- 9. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
- Onomatopoeia Examples in Songwriting
- The Marvelous Toy by Tom Paxton
- Onomatopoeia in Comic Books
- Onomatopoeia in Advertising
- A Final Word on Onomatopoeia Examples
- FAQs on Onomatopoeia Examples
The Definition of Onomatopoeia
Before looking at examples of onomatopoeia, first, you must understand what this funny word means.
Merriam-Webster defines onomatopoeia as “the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it.” The word comes from a compound Greek meaning “the sound I make.”
Onomatopoeia Examples to Add to Your Writing
The English language is filled with onomatopoeia words to add to your writing. Some categories of onomatopoeia words include:
- Animal sounds: Words like purr, cock-a-doodle-do, baa, quack, moo, meow, croak, ribbit, woof and oink are in this category.
- Mechanical sounds: This category includes words like buzz, clang, twang, click, beep, boing, ding-dong, vroom and tick-tock.
- Vocal sounds: Whine, murmur, growl, hiccup, sneeze, snore, toot and belch all fall into this category.
- Nature sounds: Sounds that nature makes, like splash, drip, rustle, swoosh, swish, whoosh, zap and patter, all fall into this category.
- Impact sounds: When something strikes something else, it may make a sound like bam, plop, clank, clang, smack, thump, wham or splat, which are all onomatopoeia examples.
- Cooking sounds: Cooking is noisy, and sounds like sizzle, squish, fizz and pop are all sounds that cooking makes.
Interestingly, even though these sounds seem obvious to English speakers, the sound is quite different in different languages. For instance, in English, the horse says “neigh,” but in Polish, it says “I-Haaa,” and in Russian, it says “I-Go-Go.”
Onomatopoeia Examples in Literature
Onomatopoeia often appears in writing naturally because the best word for a particular sound is an onomatopoeic word. However, some literature examples are full of onomatopoeia and show how to use the device well in writing. Here are some of them.
1. The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe
In “The Bells,” Poe uses quite a few onomatopoeia words. When you read the poem, you have the sound of bells practically in your ears because of this. This classic work of literature is a clear example of the literary device:
“Hear the sledges with the bells – silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
The tintinabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells,
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.”
Later in the poem, Poe uses jangling, shriek, clash, clang, roar, and many other words that help you imagine the sound of clanging bells.
In this poem, Poe repeats the word “bells” 62 times. While the word itself is not an example of onomatopoeia, the repetition does create the effect of clanging, rhythmic metal. This effect makes it a use of onomatopoeia.
2. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
In many of Shakespeare’s poems, he used literary devices to make his work more powerful. Alliteration and rhythm are common devices he used, but he also used onomatopoeia. “The Tempest” is a classic example, as this line shows:
The watch-dogs bark!
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of struggling chanticleer
When you read this poem, you can practically hear the dog and the rooster.
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Often, regular works of literature, not poems, use onomatopoeia. These uses may be a natural part of the writing process as they are the words that make the most sense, or they may be intentional on the reader’s part. This line from the first Harry Potter book has two instances of onomatopoeia:
“SMASH The door was hit with such a force that it swung clean off its hinges and with a deafening crash landed flat on the floor.”
Rowling could have written this without the words smash and crash, but including those words made the writing easier for the reader to picture using more sense.
4. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
The Highwayman is a famous poem that uses real and made-up words to show onomatopoeia. This portion of the poem shows several examples:
“Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
Tlot tlot, tlot tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hooves, ringing clear;
Tlot tlot, tlot tlot, in the distance! Were they deaf that they did not hear?”
The word “tlot” sounds much like the sound of a horse’s hooves on the pavement, and the poem uses several other words to evoke the idea of sounds, like the whip tapping on the shutters and the clatter of the horse’s hooves.
5. The Fourth by Shel Silverstein
Few poems capture onomatopoeia quite as well as Silverstein’s “The Fourth.” This short poem is filled with sound words:
With this, every other word is a word that brings to mind a sound, and you can picture the fireworks crashing in the sky above you.
6. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In this popular poem, Coleridge masterfully uses onomatopoeia to bring to mind the sounds of the sea. This line is a clear example:
“The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.”
Not only does the word burst show the use of onomatopoeia, but the repetition of the “f” and “s” sounds creates the feeling of waves crashing on the shore. Sometimes, in this way, alliteration can become onomatopoeia.
7. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Poe again masterfully uses onomatopoeia in his poem The Raven. This excerpt is a good example:
“While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door – Only this and nothing more.”
Rapping and tapping are clear examples of onomatopoeia, bringing to mind the tap, tap, tap of the beak against the window that Poe so clearly wants to convey.
8. Ulysses by James Joyce
Like Shakespeare, Joyce is famous for creating new words, many of which are onomatopoeia examples. In his novel Ulysses, he often uses made-up words to describe sounds. Here is one example:
“I was just beginning to yawn with nerves thinking he was trying to make a fool of me, when I knew his tattarrattat at the door.”
Tattarrattat will not appear in any dictionary, but it clearly conveys the meaning and sound described.
9. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway is a world-famous writer known for his delicate and intelligent writing style. Hemingway uses onomatopoeia in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls to enhance the impact of his writing. In the example below, Hemingway creates an audible experience of the scene by using words like “clack” and “click.” Using onomatopoeia is an excellent example of how to up the impact of writing with this literary device.
“He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling.”
Onomatopoeia Examples in Songwriting
Onomatopoeia can be used in songwriting to enhance the lyrical flow and create a deeper resonance with the audience. Many songwriters use onomatopoeia to enhance the song’s imagery and immerse the listener in the song. Check out our round-up of the best songwriting courses.
The Marvelous Toy by Tom Paxton
Tom Paxton is an accomplished American singer and songwriter with a career that spans over sixty years. In his song “The Marvelous Toy,” he uses onomatopoeia to demonstrate the joy of the toy. He uses words like “zip,” “zop,” and “whirr” to demonstrate the fun that can be associated with the toy. This great example shows how onomatopeia can be used outside literature to enhance the creative impact.
“It went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped,
And whirr when it stood still.
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.”
Onomatopoeia in Comic Books
Comic book authors often turn to onomatopoeia to get their points across. Words like pow and ker-plash help drive the action of the story.
Sometimes, comic books make up words to create sound effects in the writing. For example, in a Marvel Spider-Man comic book, the author regularly uses the word “thwip,” which is not a real word, to express the sound the hero’s web-shooters make.
In comic books, the onomatopoeia words are often woven into the graphics, making them even more impactful.
Onomatopoeia in Advertising
Advertising is another great place to look for onomatopoeia examples. It works well as a marketing tool because it is easy for people to remember. These words stick in the brains of the people who are hearing them.
Some examples of brand names that use onomatopoeia include:
- Cap’n Crunch
- Honey Smacks
- Corn Pops
Sometimes, the tagline of a brand will use literary devices, such as these:
- Rice Krispies: Snap! Crackle! Pop!
- Alka-Seltzer: Plop, Plop, Fizz Fizz!
- Mazda: Zoom Zoom!
If you have heard one of these advertisements, you likely already have these sounds in your mind. They are effective and catchy, and because of this, marketers use them quite often.
A Final Word on Onomatopoeia Examples
If you want to find onomatopoeia examples, all you have to do is look at poetry. Poets often use this literary device to make sounds more vivid in their works. Yet you can also find examples in almost any piece of writing you pick up.
As you work to become a better writer, take some time to weave sound words into your writing. It will convey meaning more readily and help your readers feel as if they are truly in the piece.
FAQs on Onomatopoeia Examples
What is an example of onomatopoeia?
Onomatopoeia refers to any word that sounds like the sound it makes. Some common examples include:
What does onomatopoeia mean?
Onomatopoeia means a literary device where a word sounds like the sound it represents, such as the word “clang” which sounds like a bell clanging.