69 Spanish Words That Imitate Life in a Onomatopoeic Way

Words often derived from sounds of animals, objects, or actions

Howling wolf
El lobo aúlla. (The wolf howls.) Both the the Spanish "aullar" and the English "howl" are likely imitative in origin. Picture by Tambako the Jaguar / Getty Images

Onomatopoeia, or onomatopeya in Spanish, is the formation or use of words that are imitative or intended to sound like what they represent. A good example of this is the word "click" in English, which formed to imitate a clicking sound. Its Spanish equivalent is the noun spelled clic, which became the stem of the verb cliquear, "to click a mouse."

Onomatopoeia is not the same for all languages because native speakers interpret each sound their own way and may form words differently. For example, the onomatopoeic sound for a frog differs greatly across cultures. The croak of a frog is coa-coa in French, gae-gool-gae-gool in Korean, ¡berp! in Argentinian Spanish, and "ribbit" in the United States. "Croak" itself in an example of onomatopoeia.

In some cases, imitative words have evolved over the centuries to the point where the onomatopoeic nature of the word is no longer obvious. For example, both the English "touch" and the Spanish tocar probably came from an imitative Latin root word.

How to Use Onomatopoeic Words

Sometimes onomatopoeic words are interjections, words that stand alone rather than as part of a standard sentence. Also, interjections can be used when imitating an animal, like a cow's sound, which in Spanish is spelled mu.

Onomatopoeic words can also be used or modified to form other parts of speech, such as the word clic or the Spanish verb zapear, coming from the onomatopoeic word zap.

Spanish Onomatopoeic Words

In English, common onomatopoeic words include "bark," "snort," "burp," "hiss," "swish," and "buzz." What follows are several dozen Spanish onomatopoeic words in use. Spelling is not always standardized.

Spanish Word Meaning
achí achoo (the sound of a sneeze)
achuchar to crush
arrullar to coo, to lull to sleep
auuuu howl of a wolf
aullar to howl
bang bang bang-bang (the sound of a gun)
be bleat (as of a ram or similar animal)
berp croak (as of a frog)
bisbisear to murmur or mumble
brrr brr (the sound one makes when cold)
bu boo
bum boom, explosion, the sound of being struck by someone or something
bzzz buzz (as of a bee)
chascar, chasquido to snap, to pop, to crackle
chilla the scream or screech of various animals such as a fox or rabbit
chinchín the sound of cymbals
chirriar to creak
chof splash
chupar to lick or suck
clac click, clack, a very brief sound such as that of a door closing
clic, cliquear mouse click, to click a mouse
clo-clo, coc-co-co-coc, kara-kara-kara-kara clucking sound
cricrí; cric cric cric the sound of a cricket
croa croak (as of a frog)
cruaaac cruaaac caw (sound of birds)
cuac cuac quack
cúcu-cúcu cuckoo sound
cu-curru-cu-cú coo
deslizar to slide
din don, din dan, ding dong ding-dong
fu growl of a lion
ggggrrrr, grgrgr growl of a tiger
gluglú gobble-gobble of a turkey
glup gulp
guau bow-wow, dog bark
hipo, hipar hiccup, to hiccup
iii-aah heehaw of a donkey
jaja ha-ha (the sound of laughter)
jiiiiiii, iiiio neigh
marramao howling of a cat
miau meow of a cat
mu moo
muac, muak, mua sound of a kiss
murmurar leaves rustling in the wind, murmur
ñam ñam yum-yum
oinc, oink oink
paf sound of something falling or two things striking each other
pao the sound of a spanking (regional use)
pataplum the sound of an explosion
pío pío chirp, click
piar to chirp, cluck, or squawk
plas splash, the sound of something hitting something
pop pop (sound)
pop, pum the sound of a champagne cork popping
puaf yuck
quiquiriquí cock-a-doodle-do
rataplán the sound of a drum
refunfuñar to mutter or grumble
silbar to hiss or whistle
siseo, sisear hiss, to hiss
tan tan tan the sound of a hammer in use
tictac tick-tock
tiritar to shiver
toc toc knock-knock
tocar to touch or to play a musical instrument
trucar to trick
tumbar to knock down
uf phew, ugh (often a sound of disgust, such as after smelling something awful)
uu uu the sound an owl makes
zangolotear to shake or rattle
zao shoo (a shout for getting rid of animals)
zapear to zap
zas sound of being struck
zumbar to buzz, to slap (the noun form is zumbido)
zurrar to hit, to clobber

Key Takeaways

  • Onomatopoeia involves the use or formation of words that imitate the sound of something.
  • Words that imitate the same sound sometimes seem to have little in common in different languages.
  • Meanings of onomatopoeic words can change over time so that the imitative origins of words are no longer obvious.