Before we dive into today’s lesson, let me address the elephant in the room. Some are probably asking:
OK, it does sound like a big scary word. But onomatopoeia is a figure of speech that mimics the sound of an item it describes. It is the “written sound”.
In French it is called une onomatopée.
I'm sure you've been using them everyday---made-up words that are based on how they actually sound. For example, boom! for a loud crash, tick-tock for the sound of the clock, vroom for the sound of an engine, meow for the sound a cat makes or zzzz for sleeping.
Onomatopoeia comes from the Greek words ”onoma” which means “name” and “poio” which means to create. There is a wide range of sounds covered under the onomatopoeia blanket.
These include sounds made by:
The funny thing is, while the different onomatopoeia sound quite natural in your own language, the sounds vary and become more and more hilarious as you go to different parts of the world. For example, a loud evil cackle is a KÄKÄTTÄÄ in Finnish. And pigs in Georgia don’t say oink, oink, they say ghrutu ghrutu.
Sound weird? Wait till you see this list of French onomatopoeia listed side by side with their English counterparts.
You’ll encounter some of these as you read a variety of texts in French: it often appears in comic books (bandes dessinées), cartoons (dessins animés) as well as children’s books (livres pour enfants).
No time to read now? You can also download the longer version of this list of French onomatopoeia by signing up below.
Let’s check them out.
The French don’t really catch some Z’s, but some R’s instead. Even better than ron-ron, the snoring sound in French is actually called a ron-pshi to mimic the sound of a loud inhale and exhale.
The sound French babies make when they cry is called a ouin-ouin. Sounds more positive than the wailing sound of a wah-wah, no?
Did you stub your toe or step on an errant piece of lego? Ow, that hurts! The French would say aïe ! instead of ouch!
One could argue that the sound French people make when they drink-- glou-glou -- is a tad quieter than the standard glug-glug..
Feeling sneezy? The French call it atchoum.
In French, a beating heart makes a poum-poum sound instead of thump-thump.
Being noisy in a French library? You'll likely hear a "chut !" In English, it’s simply sshhhh!. But shushing someone in French is chut.
See something disgusting? The French don't say yuck. They would say beurk ! or berk !
Alas, someone brought out a mouth-watering French pastry. Miam-miam!
Now this is weird because smack! in English means someone just slapped the bejeezus out of you. If your French date texts you smack right after you went out, don't take it to mean he or she is into some form of domestic violence.
The sound of a slap in French is called paf, vlan or pof !
This is the sound the clock makes: tic-tac in French while it’s tick-tock in English. Close enough, right?
In French there’s a couple of extra d’s in the sound of a phone ringing.
Dring! Get the phone, s'il vous plaît !
Sound weird to you? It sure does. The sound of a gunshot is pan-pan in French!
Would you have guessed that pin-pon is the ambulance sound in French? Quite different from wee-woo in English.
Yes this is the sound of a doorbell ringing. And yes, come to think of it, the French one is just a Frenchy version with the extra ue of the English ding-dong sound!
Something fell to the ground and made a huge noise. Patatra ! the French would say. The English would probably be scratching their head and thinking how it sounded more like a kaboom! or splat! ?
The splashing sound an object makes when it falls into water is plouf in French.
See also: French vocabulary: Pets and Animals
What sound does a pig make? The French say it’s not oink-oink but groin-groin !
French ducks don’t quack, the say coin-coin !
Which one sounds more accurate? Is it the French’s croac-croac or is it ribbit? You be the judge!
Instead of hissing, the French would say le serpent siffle. The verb siffler is also used to say “to whistle”. So do you think the snake makes a sort of whistling sound? Scary thought, come to think about it.
Just a little variation in the spelling, but close enough.
When French dogs bark, it’s ouah ouah or ouaf ouaf! Not woof-woof or bow-wow like the English say!
No, it’s not the sound of an adolescent girl saying an over-extended ‘hi’to her friends. It’s a French sound for the whinny of a horse.
Finally, the last one on the list is the sound a rooster makes which happens to be among the most difficult animal sound humans ever had to decipher. While English people would call it a lengthy cock-a-doodle-doo, in French it’s simply cocorico !
We’ve talked about the sound of a rooster. But how about the sound of a hen? In French, it is cot-cot-cot, cot-cot-codet ! Quite accurate, don’t you think?
Want more funny French onomatopoeia? Click the button below to download the full--and longer--list in PDF! Total of 61 items on the list! Get it now!
Did you enjoy this list of French onomatopoeia? How do you say those sounds in your native language? Feel free to share it with us in the comments!
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Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +