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18 Animal Sounds in English

The sounds of birds, dogs, cats and other animals change from language to language.

Animal sounds are a type of onomatopoeia—words that imitate sounds. Some animal sounds and verbs are also used in everyday conversation to mean different things.

Knowing animal sounds in English might seem unimportant, but these sounds are a part of culture. They can also help you understand how to pronounce words better.

So in this post, you’ll learn 18 animal sounds in English, like meow, woof and neigh.

Contents

1. Cats: meow, purr, hiss, yowl

As any cat owner knows, cats meow when they want something. When they’re content (happy)—like when you pet them—they purr.  Cat purring sounds like a little engine! 

Unhappy cats might yowl or cry out loudly. Or they might hiss  when they’re angry or in danger, which is also the sound a snake makes.

2. Dogs: bark, woof, growl, howl

The loud sound that dogs usually make is a bark. Angry dogs growl, scared or sad dogs whimper, and some dogs (and wolves) howl.  A dog that says “woof” is not “woofing,” it’s barking.

Dogs also make many noises depending on how big they are. Many dogs also make a woof or ruff  sound, but small dogs yip and yap (someone yappy is someone who talks a lot), while large dogs have a deep bow-wow.

3. Horses: neigh, whinny, nicker, snort

If you’ve ever heard a horse’s sound, you know it’s hard to describe. In English, the sound is written as a neigh and is called a whinny.  

The word “whinny” is another attempt to write the sound a horse makes, or might be related to the word “whine,” which is a complaining sound. Horses also snort and nicker,  which is a low whinny.

4. Goats and sheep: bleat, baa

A classic nursery song mentions the sounds of goats and sheep: “Baa baa black sheep have you any wool?”

These farm animals make the sound baa, which is unusual because we don’t normally see two a’s next to each other in English. The double a’s are used to show that the sound is elongated (lengthened). This cry is called a bleat.

5. Pigs: oink, squeal, grunt

In English, pigs say oink. Pigs also squeal  which is a high-pitched whine. Humans also squeal to show happiness (i.e. “She squealed in delight when she saw the present”).

“To squeal on someone” also means telling on them, especially concerning a crime. For example, “The robber would have gotten away with the money, but his partner squealed to the police.”

Another pig noise is the grunt. You probably grunt sometimes too, since it’s the sound you make when you do something physically difficult. 

6. Cows: low, moo

The sound a cow makes is moo. This sound is officially called a low  which comes from a word that means to shout, but you’ll probably never hear it called that in real life.

You can say “The cow is lowing,” but saying “The cow is mooing” is just fine!

7. Donkeys: bray, hee-haw

Donkeys have a two-toned call that sounds pretty funny. In English, this sound is called braying and is written as hee-haw.  

The official British version is a bit different from the American though; it’s written as eeyore.  Sound familiar? That’s the name of the sad donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories.

8. Chickens: cluck, peep

Female chickens are called hens and they make a clucking  sound. Baby chickens say peep and are called chicks. The word “chick” is also an extremely informal and somewhat insulting way to refer to women.

Different languages seem to agree on these sounds pretty closely, but roosters (male chickens) are a different matter!

9. Roosters: crow, cock-a-doodle-do

When a rooster calls in the morning, that’s called crowing (similar to the bird “crow,” but in this case, it’s a verb). In English, the sound of a rooster is written as cock-a-doodle-do.  

10. Birds: sing, chirp, tweet

Birds of all sizes are known for their sounds, which are usually called singing. Birds also chirp, trill and warble.

They also tweet and twitter,  which you might recognize as the former name of a very popular social media website. It also used to have a bird logo. Now you know why! 

11. Doves and pigeons: coo

Let’s get into some specific bird sounds. Not all birds sound the same in English! Doves and pigeons in particular coo. You might hear this sound early in the morning or if you live in the city with a lot of pigeons.

12. Owls: hoot, screech

The owl’s sound is called a hoot. Owls, and other birds of prey like eagles and hawks, can also screech —a loud, high-pitched scream.

They’re known for not using too many sounds at all as they fly; they’re silent predators (animals that hunt other animals for food).

13. Ducks and geese: quack, honk

Do you think ducks and geese sound the same? In English, they make two very different sounds. Ducks quack and geese honk.

Both words are also used in regular English: cars and trucks also honk when they blast their horns, and a quack is a fake doctor.

14. Turkeys: gobble

The sound a turkey makes is called a gobble.  That’s also a word that means to eat quickly. So every Thanksgiving—an American holiday when people traditionally eat turkeys—we gobble up turkeys.

15. Bees and mosquitoes: buzz

How many times have you been awakened in the middle of the night as a mosquito flew by your ear? Many insects like mosquitoes, flies and bees, make a buzzing  sound.

In the middle of the night, the sound of a mosquito is more like a whine,  which you’ve already read means to complain. We should be the ones complaining!

16. Crickets: chirp

Crickets, like birds, say chirp.  Many crickets chirping together make a beautiful sound. One cricket chirping indoors can drive you crazy.

17. Frogs: croak, ribbit

In English, frogs croak or say ribbit,  and you can thank Hollywood for that!

Ribbit is the accepted sound for a frog in English, but only one frog species actually says ribbit, and it was introduced into our language by Hollywood when sounds came to the movies.

18. Lions: growl, roar

If you’re out in the African wilderness and you hear a low growl or a loud roar,  get out of there fast! That’s the sound of a lion, the “king of the jungle.”

 

Now you’ll always know which words to use when you’re talking about animals. These aren’t brought up as much in English classes, but they’re fun to learn.

In general, onomatopoeia is used in stories and sometimes in casual language. To expand your vocabulary, you can pick up more onomatopoeia and slang through English media, like the videos on FluentU.

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