Japanese onomatopoeia

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On this page, you can learn Japanese onomatopoeia.

Three types of Japanese onomatopoeia

Japanese onomatopoeia can be divided into three groups: 擬声語, 擬音語 and 擬態語.

  • 擬声語(ぎ・せい・ご):to describe voice (声 means ‘voice’)
  • 擬音語(ぎ・おん・ご):to describe sound (音 means ‘sound’)
  • 擬態語(ぎ・たい・ご):to describe states of being (態 means ‘state of being’)

擬声語

It is a word to describe voice of people or animals.

Example

わんわん is the sound dogs make when they bark.

犬がわんわんほえています。

A dog is barking.

擬音語

It is a word to describe sound.

Example

ざあざあ describes heavy rain falling.

雨がざあざあふっています。

It is pouring.

擬態語

It is a word to describe states of being, not sound or voice.

Example

じろじろ describes somebody staring at something. It is used as じろじろみる which means ‘stare’.

人をじろじろみるな。

Do not stare at people.

Written both in Hiragana and Katakana

Japanese onomatopoeia can be written either in Hiragana or Katakana. The examples above can be わんわん or ワンワン, ざあざあ or ザーザー and じろじろ or ジロジロ.

Onomatopoeia with verb

Japanese onomatopoeia is often used to make a verb more informative.

Example 1

みる means ‘see’ but onomatopoeia plus みる can convey more information.

  • じろじろみる:stare
  • ちらちらみる:glance

Example 2

なく means ‘weep’ but onomatopoeia plus なく can convey more information.

  • ぼろぼろなく:weep with big drops of tears
  • しくしくなく:weep quietly
  • えんえんなく:kids cry hard to get attention
  • わんわんなく:cry hard (so loud)

Repeat twice or not

Need to repeat twice

Many Japanese onomatopoeias repeat two letters twice such as じろじろ, ぼろぼろ, しくしく, えんえん, わんわん etc.

They must be like that if they are used with a verb. For example, ‘stare’ is じろじろみる. Nobody says じろみる. You need to say じろっとみる if you just use じろ once.

No need to repeat

You don’t have to repeat two letters if they are not used with a verb. See the manga below.

ゾク describes the state of fear. If you want to make a verb ‘fear’, it has to be ゾクゾクする.

little つ or ツ at the end of onomatopoeia

See the manga below. ニヤ describes somebody who smirks. ッ at the end of ニヤ gives readers a sharp sound. ニヤッ sounds sharper than ニヤ.

The index of Japanese onomatopoeia