japanese onomatopoeia

Japanese Onomatopoeia: 70+ Simple Words to Describe Sounds Like a Native

Woof, roar, tick-tock, ding-dong, whoosh, BOOM!

All of these are examples of onomatopoeia, or words that imitate the sound it describes.

In Japanese, onomatopoeia is known as 擬音語  (ぎおんご).

This post will give you a complete rundown on Japanese onomatopoeia— the five types, 70 useful onomatopoeia words, how the words used in everyday Japanese and more.


5 Types of Japanese Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia can be broken into five different groups:

擬声語 (ぎせいご) — Giseigo
These are sounds made by living things like birds tweeting or children laughing.

擬音語 (ぎおんご) — Giongo
These are sounds made by inanimate objects such as airplanes or creaky doors.

擬態語 (ぎたいご) — Gitaigo
These are words that depict emotions or bodily feelings, like the sound of someone growing angry or the sound of your stomach growling.

擬容語 (ぎようご) — Giyougo
These are sounds that describe movement.

擬情語 (ぎじょうご) — Gijougo
These are words that describe feelings and emotions.

Usually, onomatopoeia that mimics a sound is written in katakana.

For example, ワンワン (woof woof), ケロケロ (ribbit ribbit) and ドカン (boom!) are all written in katakana.

Onomatopoeia that mimics actions, emotions, phycological or physical states of being is usually written in hiragana.

わくわく (to get nervous or excited with anticipation), ねばねば (to be sticky) and きらきら (to shine, sparkle and glisten), for instance, are seen in hiragana.

But this isn’t a strict rule, and depending on the writer, any onomatopoeia can appear in hiragana or katakana.

Every onomatopoeia is broken into three basic forms:

Double Form: にこにこ (niko niko)

-と Form: にこっと (nikotto)

-り Form: にこ (nikori)

Using onomatopoeia in sentences will appear in one of these forms.

But not all onomatopoeia can take every one of these forms (it may only use two), and their meaning can change slightly depending on the one it’s in.

Additionally, some words look like onomatopoeia but are not. When in doubt, always double-check!

NihongoResources and Tangorin (my personal favorite) are awesome dictionaries that you can use to look up different onomatopoeia.

Giseigo ( 擬声語 )


ワンワン — woof (dog)

ウォーッ — howl (dog)

ニャーニャー — meow (cat)

ゴロゴロ — purr (car)

モーモー — moo (cow)

ヒヒーン — neigh (horse)

ケロケロ — ribbit (frog)

ホーホー — hoot (owl)

チチチ — tweet (birds)

チュンチュン — chirp (bird)

リンリン — chirping (cricket)

チュウチュウ — squeak (mouse)

ぶーん — buzz (bee)

ブーブー — oink (pig)


ちびちび — to sip a drink; to nibble on food

ガブガブ — gulp vigorously; swig

ごくごく — gulp down a drink; drink in long gulps

ズルズル — slurp

がつがつ — eating ravenously; devour

ぱくぱく — heartily eating; quivering lips

むしゃむしゃ — to munch or to chomp on something

ちびちび — to nibble on food; to sip a drink

すやす — sleeping peacefully

ぐっすり — soundly sleeping

うとうと — drowsy; nodding off

くたくた — weak with exhaustion; worn out; beat tired

がみがみ — nagging (loudly); scolding

ぶつぶつ — grumble; muttered complaint

もぐもぐ — mumble

はきはき — unhesitating; talk clearly and briskly

くらくら — feel dizzy; light-headed

Giongo ( 擬音語 )

ぐちゃぐちゃ — pulpy; soppy; soggy

パリパリ — crunchy; crisp

ねばねば — sticky; gooey

ぼそぼそ — tasteless, bland, and dry; muttering under your breath

ちくちく — prickly pain; need-like pain

ずきずき — throbbing pain

しくしく — dull pain; gripping pain

バタン — shutting; bang

ドサッ — falling hard; falling of a heavy object

コンコン — knocking

ガシャン — crashing

Gitaigo ( 擬態語 )

のろのろ — sluggishly, lazily, dragging

ごろごろ — stay idle; laying around; loaf around

べとべと — sticky

べとべと — sticky (from blood or sweat)

グルグル — dizzy

ピリピリ — spicy; hot

ほかほか — warm food or body

じろじろ — staring intensely

さっぱり — feeling refreshed

ひんやり — feeling cool

Giyougo ( 擬容語 )

ガチガチ — teeth chattering

カバカバ — eating quickly, chewing rapidly

すたこら — walking briskly

ゆっくり — to do something slowly

うろうろ — wandering around aimlessly

がくがく — joints shaking, knees wobbling

ぶるぶる — trembling or shivering (from anger, fear, coldness, etc.)

うとうと — nodding off into sleep; half asleep

のろのろ — rolling; moving slow and sluggishly

Gijougo (擬情語)

うずうず — to itch with desire; struggling to resist an urge

おろおろ — too flustered, nervous, shocked to think or move

そわそわ — fidgety; restless; have butterflies from excitement or nerves

びっくり — thrilled; surprised; frightened; shocked

いらいら — edgy; testy; ticked off (especially when being made to wait)

つんつん — to be cross; cranky; aloof

でれでれ — moonstruck; behave as if moonstruck

おたおた — shocked speechless

どきどき — heart pounding; nervous; excited

How to Use Japanese Onomatopoeia

Japanese onomatopoeia is used in everyday conversation and is a great way to mix up your vocabulary and impress your friends.

Onomatopoeia helps convey a clearer message of what you’re trying to say by attaching itself to a verb.

Take the verb, 笑う (to laugh) for example. A loud, boisterous laugh is “ げらげら .” So to express loud laughter, or laughing out loud, we can say “ げらげら笑う!

You can also slightly change the meaning of an onomatopoeia depending on what form it’s in or the word it’s attached to. For example:

うとうと眠る — to have a nap

うとうとする — to fall into a sleep

うとうと眠る — to doze off to sleep

Lastly, some onomatopoeia must be used with the participle と (a particle that quotes a thought, sound or speech), such as these:

彼女は「好きです」言った — She said, “I like it.”

彼は「ダメだ」言った — He said, “No.”

今はすやすや静かな寝息を立てている — Now they are sleeping soundly.

Take a look at these examples where Japanese onomatopoeia is used in common conversation:

日本語がぺらぺらになりたい — I want to become fluent in Japanese
彼女はフランス語がぺらぺらです — She is fluent in French

お腹がぺこぺこです — I’m starved
朝ご飯から何も食べてなくて、お腹がぺこぺこだよ — I haven’t eaten since breakfast, so I’m really hungry

As you can see from the last two examples, ぺこぺこ  doesn’t have a direct translation like “starving” or “hungry.” Rather, it can mean both based on the context.

The same applies here:

彼女は彼をみてわくわくした — She was excited to see him
新しい仕事にわくわくしている — I’m thrilled with my new job

彼らはラブラブのカップルだ — They’re a lovey-dovey couple
今、二人はラブラブ — Now they’re deeply in love

Since Japanese onomatopoeia is very context-based, the best way to learn new onomatopoeia and become good at using them is to immerse yourself in Japanese content.


You can do this easily by reading manga, talking to a language partner and/or using an immersion-based language learning program like FluentU.

FluentU turns Japanese internet videos—like movie trailers, music videos, anime clips and more—into language lessons.

While watching videos, you can click on words, phrases and grammar patterns in the interactive subtitles that you don’t know to instantly see definitions, example sentences and other videos that use them in context.

And if you’re struggling with a specific onomatopoeia, you can look it up in the video-based dictionary. This also curates relevant, level-appropriate videos where you can see how native speakers use it in real-world Japanese.

japanese onomatopoeia

Now that you’ve seen onomatopoeia, it’s just begging to be used in conversation.

Japanese onomatopoeia is used daily, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for it in your favorite manga, Japanese dramas and classic films. Or better yet, try to slip some into a conversation!

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