Coach John looks at onomatopoeia in English.

Click HERE to download the Weekly English Practice as a PDF.

Useful Vocabulary

iterary device: (n) specific techniques that allow a writer to convey a deeper meaning that goes beyond what’s on the page. 

boom: (n) a deep, long, echoing sound

bang: (n) a sudden loud, explosive noise, as the firing of a gun

crash: (n) a breaking or falling to pieces with loud noise

soundtrack: (n) the sound recorded on a film, esp. music or voices

Music groups or terms

Bebop: (n) a style of jazz

Oom-pah: (n) brass instruments, also Humppa

Ska: (n) a style of music characterised by a walking bass line

Rattle and Hum: (n) sixth album by the Irish band U2.


Onomatopoeia differs by language: it conforms to some extent to the broader linguistic system. Coach John looks at onomatopoeia in English.

Onomatopoeia is when a word imitates the sound it makes.

Onomatopoeia is also a literary device that is used to create vivid imagery in writing. An onomatopoeic word sounds like the sound it is describing, so we instantly know what it means.

In other words – when said out loud, onomatopoeic words phonetically imitate the sound that they describe. They’re often used to add emotion and make writing more fun, expressive and relatable.

Onomatopoeia examples include words like ‘boom‘, ‘bang’ and ‘crash‘. You’ll probably recognise plenty of onomatopoeia examples from comic books.

Writers also use figurative language to add more context and provide a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach. Onomatopoeia falls into this category, but the unique thing about onomatopoeia is that these words tell the reader what they should hear. They affect our senses – whether or not we’re actually aware of it while we’re reading. So, onomatopoeia makes writing more alive and realistic, because it provides a soundtrack of sorts, immersing us in the action.

Onomatopoeia appears in many languages, not just English. We use these types of words to describe a variety of things, including actions and animal noises.

The word onomatopoeia comes from the two Greek words onoma, meaning ‘name’ and poiein meaning ‘to make’. So, in a literal sense, onomatopoeia means ‘to make a name (or sound)’.

Onomatopoeias are popular in poetry because they are very descriptive words. Onomatopoeias help readers understand by forming images in their minds.

A great example of onomatopoeia in literature is this poem by Australian poet Lee Emmett:

“water plops into pond
splish-splash downhill
warbling magpies in tree
trilling, melodic thrill
whoosh, passing breeze
flags flutter and flap
frog croaks, bird whistles
babbling bubbles from tap”.

  1. Summarise the texts (To answer the questions you will need to read both texts on pages 1 and 2)
  2. In your own words; define onomatopoeia.
  3. How is onomatopoeia used in literature? 
  4. Think of some animals. What do they sound like in your language? Ask your coach how they sound in English? Are they the same or different? Explain the differences. 
  5. Listen to your coach reading the poem. What images come into your  mind?
  6. What are your favourite onomatopoeic words in English/Spanish/Basque?