onomatopoeia chinese

The Complete Guide to Onomatopoeia in Chinese

Onomatopoeias are a playful and easy way to imitate sounds in the natural world—like how splish splash and drip drop are the sounds of water in English.

Chinese onomatopoeias— 象声词 (xiàng shēng cí)—are divided into two general categories: classical Chinese and modern spoken Chinese.

Classical Chinese onomatopoeias come from written records and include tone marks, whereas modern spoken onomatopoeias usually don’t.

In this post, you’ll learn essential Chinese onomatopoeias, onomatopoeia categories and how to use them in real life.


Simple Chinese Onomatopoeia

animated chinese character "hong" against a colorful background

Simple Chinese onomatopoeias comprise most reduplicated words and words with affixes. A firm grasp of these one-word characters will help you build more complicated phrases.

One-character words

Simple onomatopoeic words are monosyllabic characters.

These are one-character words that will usually not have a tone to them.

For example:

(hōng) — boom

(pā) — bang

(pēng) — thump

(shuā) — swish


Some simple onomatopoeic words will be alliterative, where both syllables use the same initial. Examples include:

叮当 (dīng dāng) — clashing of metal or porcelain objects sounds

嘀嗒 (dí dā) — equivalent to English “tick-tock”

噼啪 (pī​ pā) — cracking or slapping sound

Vowel rhymes

Vowel rhymes are where both syllables use the same final.

For example:

哗啦 (huá la) — crashing or flowing sound of water

轰隆 (hōng lóng) — rumbling sound

呼噜 (hū lū) — snoring sound

咔嚓 (kā​ chā) — cracking sound

Other two-character words

Some words don’t fall in so easily to the above categories but are still simple two-character onomatopoeias. Such as:

刺溜 (cì liū) — sliding sound

嘎吱 (gā zī) — breaking or creaking sound due to heaviness

扑通 (pū tōng) — the sound when heavy objects are landing

Reduplicated Chinese Onomatopoeia

big red lips laughing with the chinese onomatopoeia "hahaha" in a bubble

Reduplicated onomatopoeias repeat certain characters in specific patterns.

This is similar to onomatopoeia sounds in English, like how a clicking sound can turn into “click click,” the sound of rain takes on “pitter patter, pitter patter” or a dog bark sounds like “woof woof.”

Many of these will be similar to their English counterparts, so you may immediately recognize these sounds.

AA and AAA

哈哈 (hā hā) — laughter sound

呼呼 (hū hū) — sound of the wind

哗哗 (huá huá) — sound of water or rain falling

唧唧 (jī jī) — buzzing or chirping sound, usually related to insects

喵喵 (miāo miāo) — meowing sound

哇哇 (wā wā) — crying sound

旺旺 (wàng wàng) — the sound of the bark of a dog

嘻嘻 (xī xī) — giggling sound

Any of these onomatopoeic words that take on a AA form can also be transformed to take on the AAA form.

Like how “haha” can become “hahaha,” a character in AAA form usually represents a more intense version of the sound.


Words in the ABB form will be composed of a disyllabic word where the second syllable is repeated.

For example:

嘀铃铃 (dí líng líng) — telephone ringing sound

咕噜噜 (gū lū lū) — water or rolling sound

轰隆隆 (hōng lóng lóng) — rumbling noise

哗啦啦 (huá la la) — wind or flowing water sound


The opposite of words in ABB form, AAB form comprises a disyllabic word whose first syllable is repeated.

叮叮当 (dīng dīng dāng) — the sound when metal strikes on metal, or sounds of bells

乒乒乓 (pīng pīng pāng) — the sound that happens when objects strike each other


Words in AABB form will usually be separated by a hyphen to show the difference between AA and BB.

滴滴-嗒嗒 (dī dī-dā dā) — ticking clock sound

唧唧-咕咕 (jī jī-gū gū) — whispering sound

叽叽-喳喳 (jī jī-zhā zhā) — birds chirping sound

噼噼-啪啪 (pī​ pī​-pā pā) — patting or slapping sound

乒乒-乓乓 (pīng pīng-pāng pāng) — the sound that happens when objects strike each other


Onomatopoeias in ABAB form are usually from the simple category above and are duplicated for a dramatized version and effect.

嘀嗒嘀嗒 (dī dā dī dā) — ticking clock sound

哗啦哗啦 (huá la huá la) — wind or flowing water sound

扑通扑通 (pū tōng pū tōng) — the sound when heavy objects are landing

Onomatopoeic Words with Infixes

A-li BC

A-li BC words follow this pattern (based on a word in AB form):

1. 1st syllable — 1st syllable of a disyllabic word (A)

2. 2nd syllable — (lǐ)

3. 3rd syllable — 2nd syllable of a disyllabic word (B)

4. 4th syllable — begins with the letter “l” with the same final as the 3rd

For example:

AB: 叽咕 (jī gū) — whisper
A-li BC: 叽里咕噜  (jī lĭ gū lū) — whispering sound

AB: 噼啪 (pī​ pā)
A-li BC: 噼里啪啦  (pī​ lĭ pā la) — patting or slapping sound

AB: 乒乓 (pīng pāng)
A-li BC: 乒里乓啷  (pīng lĭ pāng lāng) — the sound that happens when objects strike each other


With the basic forms and vocabulary in mind, you’ll be able to start using onomatopoeias in your own conversations. Plus, you can see them in use by native Chinese speakers on FluentU, which uses subtitled videos to teach the languagr naturally.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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