Describing Sounds in Writing

wavy haired woman holding a megaphone. When Describing Sounds in Writing Employ onomatopoeia
Photo by cottonbro studio on

When describing sounds in writing employ these six techniques. Onomatopoeia is the first of six of the most effective methods of using words and language to improve and enhance your sounds in writing.

Onomatopoeia is a type of sensory language in which the descriptive word sounds like what it describes—words like “drip,” “bang,” or “plink.” If you want to achieve an especially sound-driven description, consider using existing onomatopoeic words or craft your own.

You can read about the other five methods here:

Onomatopoeia helps heighten language beyond the literal words on the page. Onomatopoeia’s sensory effect is used to create particularly vivid imagery—it is as if you are in the text itself, hearing what the speaker of the poem is hearing. Other examples of onomatopoeia include “ahem,” “groan,” “sigh,” and animal sounds like “bleat” or “meow.”

Used this way, onomatopoeia is a form of figurative language, heightening imagery beyond the literal meaning of the word on the page. Sometimes, writers will go so far as to make up new words based on natural sounds, such as “tattarrattat,” James Joyce’s preferred word for a knock on the door in Ulysses.

Pay attention to verbs. While adjectives (words like “loud” or “sharp”) are the obvious choice for describing sounds, verbs are a powerful tool that can also help you achieve a strong description. For example, saying, “the jet was loud” is accurate and descriptive, while “the jet screamed” evokes an even stronger sense of the sound.

  • The leaves crackled and crunched under his feet.
  • The wind sighed.

What are the sound techniques in English?

The four most common sound devices are repetition, rhyme, alliteration, and assonance. See all types of rhyme here!

Cacophony and Euphony

When there are harsh and strong consonant sounds in a phrase, they seem jarring as well as dissonant. They are called cacophonies. They usually have sounds of b, d, g, k, p, s, and t. You can also use consonant blends like ch, sh, tch, etc.  Interestingly, these sounds create a unique melody such as his fingers floundering when picking up a berry. These sounds, however, merge with euphony that is opposite of it and refers to the pleasantness of a phrase that seems pleasing to the ears. This could be any phrase that is pleasant as opposed to the jarringness of cacophony. In other words, it is built upon the pleasantness of phonetic sounds.

Examples of Euphony in Literature:

The words mists, mellow, close, sun, bless, vines and eves all have a soothing quality to them and don’t sound harsh or jarring, thus making them euphonious words.

An example of euphony is the end of Shakespeare’s famous “Sonnet 18,” which goes “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

Examples of Cacophony in Literature:

Often, onomatopoeic words are also cacophonous, but not always. “Bang,” for example, utilizes the hard b and g sounds. Words like “slip” and “slush,” on the other hand, are onomatopoeic but more euphonic than cacophonic.

The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll or even popular tongue twisters like, ‘She sells seashells down by the seashore. ‘

Cacophony in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells

The speaker describes the ringing of bells—four different types of bells are described throughout the poem—and by the end, the “jingling, tinkling” sound of the bells has become “throbbing and sobbing”—and has begun to torment the speaker, causing him misery and anguish.

Words to Describe Different Sounds

If you’re struggling to find the right word to describe a sound, here’s a handy list:

  • Words to describe harsh or loud sounds: If you want to articulate abrupt, piercing, or loud noises, use: beep, bellow, blare, cackle, clack, clang, clank, clink, croak, earsplitting, full blast, grating, high frequency, huff, jarring, rasp, rumble, scrunch, shriek, toot, twang, vibrating, wail, and zap.
  • Words for soft or subtle sounds: Gentle noises can be challenging to describe. Here are some descriptors to use to evoke quiet noises: breathy, chime, droning, fizz, glug, gurgle, jingle, moan, sizzle, squish, swish, swoosh, tinkle, trill, wheeze, whir, and whoosh.
  • Animal sounds to describe noises: English language readers often associate these words with animal noises, but you can use them to create imaginative descriptions of other sounds: bleat, bray, chirping, cluck, hoot, howl, meow, neigh, purr, quack, roar, woof, yelp.

List Of verbs to describe sounds

  • babble – a gentle, pleasant sound of water as it moves along in a river
  • bang – to move, making loud noises
  • beep – a short high sound or several short high sounds
  • blare – to make a loud and unpleasant noise
  • blast – to make a loud sound with a car horn
  • bleep – a short high sound or several short high sounds
  • boo – when we do not like something we are watching or disagree with someone’s performance in particular where we have paid money to watch the performance.
  • boom – to make a deep loud sound that continues for some time
  • caterwaul – an unpleasant loud high noise
  • chant – a chant is a simple song or melody normally repeated several times.
  • cheer – a loud cheer could be heard coming from the football stadium. The home team had obviously scored a goal.
  • chime – a high ringing sound like a bell or set of bells
  • chink – a high ringing sound when knocked together, or to make something do this
  • chirp
  • clack -to make a short loud sound like one hard object hitting against another
  • clang – a loud, metallic sound
  • clank – a short, loud sound
  • clash – a loud, metallic sound
  • clatter – a series of short, sharp noises
  • click – a short sound like the sound when you press a switch
  • clink – to make the short high sound of glass or metal objects hitting each other, or to cause objects to make this sound
Full list of Onomatopeia divided by subject
  • cluck – to make a short, low sound with your tongue
  • crash – a sudden loud noise, as if something is being hit
  • creak – if something creaks, especially something wooden, it makes a high noise when it moves or when you put weight on it
  • drone – to make a low continuous noise
  • fizz – a soft sound that small gas bubbles make when they burst
  • groan – a long, low, sound
  • growl – a low, unpleasant noise
  • grunt – to make a short low sound in your throat and nose at the same time
  • gurgle – the low sound water makes when it is poured quickly from a bottle
  • hiss – another animal-like sound. Snakes hiss.
  • honk – to make a loud noise using a horn, especially the horn of a car
  • hoot – to make a short loud sound as a warning
  • mewl – crying with a soft, high sound
  • moan – a long, low sound
  • neigh – to make a high loud sound like a horse’s neigh
  • peal – if a bell peals, or if someone peals it, it makes a loud sound
  • peep – if a car’s horn peeps, it makes a sound
  • ping – to make a short high sound like the sound of a small bell
  • pipe – to make a very high sound, or to speak in a very high voice
  • pop – a sudden noise like a small explosion
  • putter – a short, quiet, low sound at a slow speed
  • ramble – to ramble is to talk for a long time but not with any great structure or organization.
  • rattle – we rattle something when we shake it. The sound of a rattle is a short sharp noise when we shake a box or tin.
Terms of Venery in Literature
  • ring – to make a bell produce a sound
  • roar – to make a continuous, very loud noise
  • rumble – a continuous deep sound
  • scream – to make a very loud high noise
  • scream – to make a very loud high noise
  • screech – to make a loud, high, and unpleasant noise
  • scrunch – to make a loud noise like something being crushed
  • sigh – a long, soft, low sound
  • sizzle – this is a “hot” sound. When we cook meat in a frying pan
  • snort – this is like an animal sound. Usually associated with pigs. Pigs snort. Humans can also snort.
  • squeak – to make a short, high noise
  • squeal – to make a long high sound
  • squee – to make a loud high noise because you are excited or happy
  • swish – a noise we associate with curtains or long dresses as they move in a certain direction.
  • thrum- to make a low regular noise like one object gently hitting another many times
  • thud – a dull sound when falling or hitting something
  • thump – to hit against something with a low loud sound
  • tinkle – to make a high, ringing sound
  • wail – to make a long, high sound
  • wheeze – a high sound, as though a lot of air is being pushed through it
  • whimper – a sound we make when we complain but it is usually a quiet soft sound the opposite of a scream.
  • whine – a high, loud sound
  • whirr – a fast, repeated, quiet sound
  • whisper – to make a quiet, gentle sound
  • whistle – to make a high sound by forcing air through your mouth in order to get someone’s attention
  • yelp – a short, loud, high sound, usually caused by excitement, anger, or pain
  • yowl – a long, loud, unhappy sound or complaint

%d bloggers like this: