For starters, what is onomatopoeia? Well, it’s a type of word representing a particular sound and is often used for literary effects. Onomatopoeia appears in many languages, as well as English, and we use these types of words to describe various things, including actions and animal noises.

Although this may seem like a complex idea to introduce to children early on in school, it’s a feature of speech they may already be familiar with.

Even if they can’t already recite a textbook definition, kids are likely to be able to recognize these valid sound words. Many children’s books, TV programs, and even comics will use onomatopoeia phrases to engage their young audience.

Did You Know…?

Onomatopoeia comes from the Greek words onoma, meaning ‘name,’ and poiein, meaning ‘to make.’ So, onomatopoeia means ‘to make a name (or sound).’

What are some examples of onomatopoeic words?

It can be challenging for children to understand the concept of onomatopoeia without the help of a few examples.

There are many great examples of onomatopoeia phrases and words in English, some of which we use more regularly than others. For example, onomatopoeic words are used a lot in comics and graphic novels to express sound effects:

  • CRASH!
  • WHACK!
  • BOOM!

The words we use to describe the verbal communications or actions of animals are also examples of onomatopoeia:

  • Bark!
  • Meow!
  • Scratch!

These are all onomatopoeic words because they symbolize a specific sound and make us think of that sound.

Common letter combinations in onomatopoeia

We’ve established an onomatopoeia definition and examples, but did you know that some common letter combinations are used in the same categories of sounds? Here are some of the most common examples.

Water sounds:

Words related to water or other liquids often start with sp- or dr-. For example:

  • splash;
  • spray;
  • drip.

For small quantities of water, the words also commonly end in -le. For example:

  • drizzle;
  • sprinkle.

Collision sounds:

For collisions of two objects, there are several common letter combinations. For example, words that start with cl- suggest that there’s been a collision between glass or metal, like:

  • clink;
  • clatter.

Other collision sounds end in -ng, which suggests that the sound resonates or echoes for a while after the collision. For example:

  • clang;
  • ding;
  • bang.

Of course, these are just a few examples. Your little ones will likely encounter many more onomatopoeia phrases in their reading.

Why do we use onomatopoeia?

By now, we’ve got a helpful onomatopoeia definition and examples to help us. But asides from representing sounds in writing, why else might we use onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeic words are used in various ways, both in speech and literature. Although they’re primarily used as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs (‘crash,’ ‘bang’ and ‘wallop’), onomatopoeic words can also be used as verbs (‘giggle,’ ‘growl,’ ‘chatter,’ ‘mumble,’ ‘slap’ and ‘clap’).

You’ll notice a pattern with some onomatopoeic verbs – many of which represent vocal sounds. These are often used in literature to describe a particular way of saying something. For example, ‘mumbled’ creates a more detailed mental image of someone speaking quietly and sheepishly. This makes it more impactful than simply telling someone ‘speak quietly.’

Onomatopoeia is also commonly used in comics. Words like ‘bang,’ ‘crash,’ and ‘pop’ bring the action to life. Sometimes, they’ll even be the only words used on that page. Onomatopoeic words can have a lot of power!

How might we use onomatopoeia in a sentence or phrase?

Now that you’re familiar with the definition and examples let’s look at how we might use onomatopoeia phrases and sentences. A great example of onomatopoeia in literature is this poem by Australian poet Lee Emmett:

Water plops into the pond
splish-splash downhill
warbling magpies in a tree
trilling, melodic thrill
whoosh, passing breeze
Flags flutter and flap
frog croaks, bird whistles
babbling bubbles from the tap

Can you see how his use of water onomatopoeia paints a picture in your head and helps you understand the sounds he’s describing?

As well as the typical collision and animal sounds, many onomatopoeia phrases and onomatopoeic words represent sounds used for literary effect to create a particular image or atmosphere for the reader.

Here are a few different examples of how you could use onomatopoeia in phrases to make your writing come alive:

  • ‘the bees buzzed loudly.’
  • ‘the bacon sizzled in the frying pan.’
  • ‘the gravel crunched under my feet’
  • ‘the music blared from the speakers’
  • ‘it fell into the swimming pool with a splash.’
  • ‘the clock ticked away in the quiet room.’
  • ‘the tomato splatted on the ground.’
  • ‘a bird fluttered past my window.’
  • ‘the snake slithered through the grass.’
  • ‘the chestnuts crackled over the warm fire.’

There are loads of different onomatopoeic words, which means they can be used in almost endless ways. Learners will have a lot of fun using onomatopoeia in their writing and coming up with some unique onomatopoeia phrases!

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