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
- Giseigo ( 擬声語 )
- Giongo ( 擬音語 )
- Gitaigo ( 擬態語 )
- Giyougo ( 擬容語 )
- Gijougo (擬情語)
- How to Use Japanese Onomatopoeia
5 Types of Japanese Onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeia can be broken into five different groups:
(ぎせいご) — Giseigo
These are sounds made by living things like birds tweeting or children laughing.
(ぎおんご) — Giongo
These are sounds made by inanimate objects such as airplanes or creaky doors.
(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.
(ぎようご) — Giyougo
These are sounds that describe movement.
(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: にこり (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
すやすや — 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
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」と言った — She said, “I like it.”
彼は「ダメだ」と言った — He said, “No.”
今はすやすやと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:
— 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
— 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:
— 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
— They’re a lovey-dovey couple
今、二人はラブラブだ — 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.
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!