GrammarPhile Blog

Onomato - what?

Posted by Conni Eversull   Apr 5, 2011 5:30:00 AM

Here is a guest post written by Lisa Shoreland.

Fun to say. Not so easy to spell. But sure to bring your writing to life. Onomatopoeia refers to words that – when you say them aloud – suggest the sound of the objects they name. Examples abound:

  • Zip
  • Snap
  • Crackle
  • Pop (!)
  • Gush
  • Slurp
  • Gurgle
  • Bang
  • Boom
Using onomatopoeia in writing

Think of these as the cartoon expression bubbles of your writing – without the bubble.

More than Words

Using literary devices such as onomatopoeia in your writing – whether creative or non-fiction – can bring your words to life. There is no need to spend time describing a “pop” or a “crackle.” Readers see these words, and they hear the sounds echoing in their minds.

Resist the urge to elaborate. A pop is a pop is a pop. A pretty girl is just that. Calling a girl “very” pretty adds nothing more. Further description requires different word choice. A woman can be “stunning” instead. If the cork of a champagne bottle doesn’t pop, perhaps it sounds like bubble gum bursting, or (dramatically) the quick sputter of a car engine.

Don’t limit yourself to simplistic usage of onomatopoeia. Beloved poets have made expert use of it to set scenes with their writing. Consider these lines by Tennyson:

The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Putting It Together

Don’t limit yourself to just the words; many examples of onomatopoeia can be found through phrases combining words that are not onomatopoeia themselves. This can have great comic effect:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Boo who?

Don’t cry about it…

Ka-ching! OK, maybe you prefer your humor a little more high-brow, but you get the idea…

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t limit yourself in your writing. Words have many layers, and you can make them work for you on many different levels. Let this handy little device work for your writing to make it more lively. 


Bio: Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go College, where recently she's been searching for college as well as military college grants. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, practicing martial arts, and taking weekend trips.


Topics: onomatopoeia, literary devices, business writing

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