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 WordMeaning
achí achoo (the sound of a sneeze)
achucharto crush
arrullarto coo, to lull to sleep
auuuuhowl of a wolf
aullarto howl
bang bang bang-bang (the sound of a gun)
bebleat (as of a ram or similar animal)
berpcroak (as of a frog)
bisbisearto murmur or mumble
brrrbrr (the sound one makes when cold)
buboo
bumboom, explosion, the sound of being struck by someone or something
bzzzbuzz (as of a bee)
chascar, chasquidoto snap, to pop, to crackle 
chillathe scream or screech of various animals such as a fox or rabbit
chinchínthe sound of cymbals
chirriarto creak
chof splash
chuparto lick or suck
clacclick, clack, a very brief sound such as that of a door closing
clic, cliquearmouse click, to click a mouse
clo-clo, coc-co-co-coc, kara-kara-kara-kara clucking sound
cricrí; cric cric cricthe sound of a cricket
croacroak (as of a frog)
cruaaac cruaaaccaw (sound of birds)
cuac cuac quack
cúcu-cúcucuckoo sound
cu-curru-cu-cúcoo
deslizarto slide
din don, din dan, ding dongding-dong
fugrowl of a lion
ggggrrrr, grgrgrgrowl of a tiger
gluglúgobble-gobble of a turkey
glupgulp
guaubow-wow, dog bark
hipo, hiparhiccup, to hiccup
iii-aahheehaw of a donkey
jajaha-ha (the sound of laughter)
jiiiiiii, iiiioneigh
marramaohowling of a cat
miaumeow of a cat
mumoo
muac, muak, muasound of a kiss
murmurarleaves rustling in the wind, murmur
ñam ñamyum-yum
oinc, oinkoink
paf sound of something falling or two things striking each other
paothe sound of a spanking (regional use)
pataplumthe sound of an explosion
pío píochirp, click
piarto chirp, cluck, or squawk
plassplash, the sound of something hitting something
poppop (sound)
pop, pumthe sound of a champagne cork popping
puafyuck
quiquiriquícock-a-doodle-do
rataplánthe sound of a drum
refunfuñarto mutter or grumble
silbarto hiss or whistle
siseo, sisearhiss, to hiss
tan tan tanthe sound of a hammer in use
tictactick-tock
tiritarto shiver
toc toc knock-knock
tocarto touch or to play a musical instrument
trucarto trick
tumbarto knock down
ufphew, ugh (often a sound of disgust, such as after smelling something awful)
uu uu the sound an owl makes
zangolotearto shake or rattle
zaoshoo (a shout for getting rid of animals)
zapearto zap
zas sound of being struck
zumbar to buzz, to slap (the noun form is zumbido)
zurrarto 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.