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Onomatopoeia: Sentences, Examples, Words List, & Art

What is Onomatopoeia?

Hello from Lillie, your friendly English teacher and artist! In my 17 years of teaching ELA, one of the most fun types of figurative language to explore has been onomatopoeia, because its definition is so delightful. However, this literary device also causes stress because it’s hard as heck to spell. Read on for tricks about how to use this term correctly, illustrated by my colorful cartoons and lively sentences.

Onomatopoeia words art
Watch out: Onomatopoeia can pack a punch.

Definition and Meaning of Onomatopoeia

The definition of onomatopoeia is easy and awesome. The term means SOUND EFFECT words, or letter arrangements that sound just like what they describe! Onomatopoeia appears whenever words mimic corresponding real-life sounds.

Examples of Onomatopoeia Words

Classic examples of onomatopoeia are the sounds effects written in comic books: BOOM! POW! CRASH. BAM. POP! WHOOSH. CRACK! Other instances are the utterances humans make to express emotions, like “Ouch!” or “Aww,” or my favorite, “YARGH!”

Animal, nature, and machine sounds are also onomatopoeia: “Tick-tock” (for a clock), BARK! (for a dog), “drip-drop” (for rain), and whir (for a machine). Many words are initially invented as onomatopoeia, which then leads to their official name: “Zipper” being one example. Fun fact, “Bash Bish Falls” is often accidentally called “Bish Bash Falls” because that’s onomatopoeia for the sound the waterfall produces!

Onomatopoeia animal
Animals are all about onomatopoeia.

Punctuation and Formatting of Onomatopoeia

In writing, words that are onomatopoeia are sometimes written in italics, ALL CAPS, or “quotation marks” to show that they’re sounds, but many examples of onomatopoeia are just written in normal lettering. Ex: “The lion let out a roar, then ate the octopus in one gulp.” In that sentence, “roar” is onomatopoeia, but it has no special stylistic formatting.

Spelling Across Languages

Onomatopoeia words often differ by language and culture. For example, a pig says, “Oink” in English, but in French the onomatopoeia is, “Groin-groin.” Meanwhile, a cow says, “Moo” in English but “Mu” in Spanish (similar sounds with different spelling). There is a fascinating compendium of Japanese onomatopoeia here if you’d like to explore this more.

Can You Make Your Own Onomatopoeia?

Though spelling of many examples of onomatopoeia words are formalized, for random, fictional, or new words, you are allowed to make up the spelling yourself based on the sound you’re trying to convey.

For example, if you’re writing a story about a fictional veggie-cutting machine, you can explain that it made the sound, “KER-KLUP!” if that’s the noise you envision the mechanism making as it slices through celery. Onomatopoeia has led to numerous fabulous new words being made up! Speaking of spelling…

How to spell Onomatopoeia
Tricks to remember the spelling of onomatopoeia.

How to Spell Onomatopoeia

I’m an English teacher, but I find spelling “onomatopoeia” to be insanely difficult. Incorrect versions I’ve written include: onomatapia, onamatapia, onomatapoeia, anamatapoia, onomatopoia, onomotopeea… and the list of mistakes goes on and on. There are just so many vowels that sound similar here, meaning the word’s pronunciation gives little clue to its spelling! (This is ironic, because the term is all about sound providing information.)

To assist in this arduous spelling quest, I’ve come up with the following trick to help to remember the letters of “onomatopoeia” and their order: ONO (like the artist Yoko Ono), MAT (like a door mat), O (the shape your mouth makes with some sound effect words), POE (like author Edgar Allan Poe), and IA (like “I Agree”). Yes, it’s a forced and ridiculous mnemonic device, but it gets the job done. (For another silly but effective spelling lesson, check out “How to Spell Dilemma.”)

Onomatopoeia words cartoon
Onomatopoeia can be noisy!

How to Pronounce Onomatopoeia

The six-syllable word “onomatopoeia” is slightly easier to pronounce than it is to spell. Say: “Aah-nuh-mah-tuh-PEE-uh.” Once you get the hang of the pronunciation, the word is rhythmic and kind of hilarious to say — almost like the sound of a horse galloping!

Origin and Word Parts of Onomatopoeia

What’s the origin of this tongue twister of a word? The word “onomatopoeia” originated in the 1500s from the Greek “onoma” (which means “word or name”) and “poiein” (which means “to make”). Basically it means, “make a word based on how something sounds!”

Onomatopoeia example
Use onomatopoeia in writing for exciting sound effects.

Onomatopoeia in Songs, Poems, and Literature

It’s notable that the word “onomatopoeia” is derived from the same Greek word “poiein” as “poet,” because the literary device is used all the time in poetry, music, and books! How come?

Onomatopoeia VIDEO Lesson:

Why Use this Literary Device?

The reason figurative language like onomatopoeia is used is because these literary devices spice up writing, making it more immersive and interesting. If you’re reading or listening to something that says, “Suddenly, a CRACK of lightening tore through the sky,” you can really envision and hear the scene, feeling like you’re there.

Alliteration and Onomatopoeia Sentences

Ready to get crazy? Sometimes onomatopoeia spans several words, meaning a whole phrase mimics the sound it’s describing. This is particularly evident in the presence of alteration: when a series of words with the same first sound are placed together.

For example, examine the sentence: “Soft sands and shimmering surf called to me at the beach.” The repeated “s” sound (alliteration) becomes onomatopoeia because it mimics the “ssshh” sound ocean waves make at the beach as they lap against the sand!

Onomatopoeia examples words art
On Pinterest? Pin this Onomatopoeia lesson to save and share!

Onomatopoeia and Beyond

BAM! Thus concludes our entertaining exploration of this literary device. POW! Hope you enjoyed it like WOW! Feel free to leave comments with some of your favorite examples of onomatopoeia, or request the next ELA lesson for me to illustrate. Do browse my other English grammar and vocabulary articles here:

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Jac

Wednesday 24th of February 2021

I love the idea of incorporating cartoons with English concepts! Such a great aid for remembering. My son will love this. Thanks!

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 24th of February 2021

Yay! Do please share with any students, teachers, or homeschooling families who would benefit!

Brianna

Wednesday 24th of February 2021

Definitely using your spelling tips for this one!

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 24th of February 2021

12 letters long and a million ways to spell it wrong -- we can use all the help we can get to remember how to do it!

Michelle | Flipped-Out Food

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

Just the word "onomatopoeia" makes me giggle. I didn't know that expressions like "ouch" also fell into that category—I guess we never stop learning! And now I'm filing "yargh" away for future use...

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

So useful and fun, right?!

Soheila Hakimi

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

I love your illustration! Do you create all of them yourself? They illustrate your lesson so well.

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

Thanks so much! I do 100% of the art on this site by hand, myself (which is why I always include the time-lapse drawing process videos). I love cartooning, and it goes delightfully well with teaching!

Genevieve | Fitty Foodlicious

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

I've never heard of this word until now; this is so cool!

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

I'm thrilled to be able to teach you this wonderful form of figurative language!

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