The 10 Most Common Onomatopoeias in Spanish

Virginia Orozco
October 4, 2022
The 10 Most Common Onomatopoeias in Spanish

If I step on a lego in English I’ll say “ouch!” but in Spanish, I’ll yell ¡Ay! And in English dogs bark with “woof” but in Spanish dogs bark guau. It may seem that dogs naturally change languages depending on their listeners, this is not actually so far from the truth but don’t get confused. It’s less mystical than that because today, my dear Spanish learners and Latinos in the making, we’re going to talk about sounds and explain the phenomenon called onomatopoeia.

Ok, but first let’s start by defining that weird word in the title. What on Earth is an “onomatopoeia”? (onomatopeya in Spanish)

According to Cambridge Dictionary, “onomatopoeia” is the act of creating or using words that include sounds that are similar to the noises the words refer to. The word comes from the Greek word onomatopoiía, which is made up of onoma (name) and poieîn (to make, create) and literally means creation of words. So, wait… Isn’t that what a language does: Create words?

That is exactly right! As languages originated out of the need to communicate: facts, ideas, feelings. Especially from the very begining, it’s thought that the first representations that humans made of words were those of the imitations from nature: fire, rain, wind, storms. But particularly the sounds of animals. This was a vital practice not just to pass time, but to survive essentially. Naturally, when it came to communicating in the writing format, we needed to find ways to articulate or represent in words the sounds we could hear. Thus depending on the context and culture, every language created its own words for these sounds, even if they represent a universal sound.

An onomatopoeia is an independent word class and part of the sentence, it is invariable and is not related to other syntactic constructions. The common form of ofonomatopoeias is repetition for three reasons: firstly, to express the idea of ​​a noise that develops continuously or an indeterminate number of times (example: The “tic-toc” of the clock). Secondly, to intensify the perception of phonemes, thus enphazising their correct decoding. Finally, to create a rhythm and harmony in the pronunciation that reproduces the designated noise as closely as possible. This is common to find in the choruses of popular songs.

Thus, since the Spanish language is known for being expressive and rich, the amount of onomatopoeias is enormous, and if we include the variations depending on the regions, it would take days to list them all. Don’t worry, I’ve taken the task to narrow them down in the following list with the most common onomatopoeias for you, Spanish learners.

  1. To knock on the door: ¡Toc, toc!; ¡Tun, tun! There is a Christmas carol that starts like this: Tun, tun. ¿Quién es? Gente de paz. Ábrannos la puerta que ya es Navidad.

  2. Crowing of a rooster: ¡Qui-qui-ri-qui-quí!

  3. Meowing of a cat: ¡Miau! Just like in English but with different spelling.

  4. Cat’s purr: Rrr

  5. Squawking of a duck: ¡Cuac!

  6. Open laugh: ¡Ja ja! In Spanish if you laugh “ha ha” your laugh will robotically sound “a a”, due to the fact that the h is always silent. We have another article here that talks about it.

  7. Shy laugh: ¡Ji ji! The “he he” in English.

  8. Silence: ¡Chist! – ¡Chito! Ironically it makes more sound than the purpuse of the very action.

  9. Explosion: ¡Pum!

  10. Clapping: ¡Plas, plas!

  11. Punch: ¡Zas!

  12. The whistling when complimenting somebody’s appearance: ¡Fiu fiu! My personal favorite 😉

Do you agree with this list? Would you add more?  Add it to the comment section and remember you can join our Spanish learners community in WorldsAcross.

What are you wating for? Learn the real Spanish!

Virginia Orozco

Virginia Orozco

BA in Modern Languages and Political Scientist. Spanish-English-French Translator. Copywriter. Linguistics and Arts Enthusiast.

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