第155課: Onomatopoeia I: Giongo 擬音語 

Japanese has a lot of onomatopoeic words that not only describe sound but also physical and mental states. Unlike English, they are more numerous and found in all sorts of speech for reasons you will learn in this lesson. These words are often hard to translate, but don't let this be a problem for you.


The definition of a 擬音語 is directly tied to what it's used with. Most onomatopoeic expressions in Japanese have several usages, and not all might fall into the same category. Because we are only dealing with 擬音語 in this lesson, we will not see usages of any word introduced that fall out of this category.  

 Common 擬音語

 ぺこぺこ(と・に) Being hungry がらがら(と・に) Rattling
 どきどき(と) Heart beating しくしく(と) Silently (weeping)
 ぺらぺら(と) Fluently ざーざー(と)  Raining very hard
  1. ぺこぺこ: With と it refers to being servile or dented. 
  2. がらがら: When  followed by と, it refers to the sound of something solid crashing, a tire revolving, gargling, clattering, or rattling. 
  3. ぺらぺら(と): This may also be the sound of flipping pages. 
  4. ざーざー: It can also refer to the sound of radio static. 

Part of Speech Note: Some verbs are based off of onomatopoeia. Ex.  はためく (to flutter)

Voicing Note: Voiced onomatopoeia often have a more serious or dramatic tone to them versus their very similar non-voiced counterparts. They are often antonymous. For instance, からから can refer to clattering, but がらがら can refer to something solid crashing or really loud clattering (at the least). 

 Various Realization

Let's say that a common property of onomatopoeic expressions is that there is a root. This root can be doubled and result in something like しくしく.  Now, not all onomatopoeia will have as many possible forms as others. So, you should learn onomatopoeia one at a time, but you can always look to see if a certain form exists.

To look at the wide variety of things that can happen, we will use コロ (sound of something rolling) as an example.  

 コロッ(と) Insertion of ッ after root Looks like it's going to roll
 コロン Insertion of ン after root Bounces back and rolls
 コロリ Insertion of リ after root Rolls once and stops
 コロコロ Duplication of root Rolls in succession
 コロンコロン Duplication of root + ン Rebounds with more momentum while rolling
 コロリコロリ Duplication of root + リ Intermittent rolling

Derivation Note: There are cases when a ッ may be inserted inside the root, but this can't happen here because the consonant inside the root is r. 

Of course, there can always be other words derived from onomatopoeia. Please note that you always have your irregularities. Sometimes different forms have different nuances, although always related. This does not include non-onomatopoeic words with repeating elements. This is really just something you have to mess around with and test the limits of.


1. 日本語がぺらぺらですね。
    You speak Japanese very fluently, don't you?

2. 車輪しゃりんはくるくる回転かいてんした。
    The wheels turned around.

3. しとしととる。
    To drizzle.

4. 冷蔵庫の中をごそごそあさる。    
    To feel through the refrigerator. 

5. おなかがぺこぺこだよ。
    I am very hungry!

6. ゴロゴロとかみなりっている。
    Thunder is rumbling.

7. 大きながどさっとれた。
    A large tree thudded down.

8. ばたんとめる。
    To shut with a bang.

9. しんとした森
    A silent forest

10. しずくがぽたぽたと落ちていた。
      The drops were plopping down. 

11. 雨が屋根(やね)をパラパラと()っていた。
      The rain was pattering on the roof.

12. ぐつぐつ(と)()る。
      To simmer. 

13. ざわざわ(と)する
      To hum  

14. カブトムシがカサカサと草むらを動いている。
     Beetles are rustling through the grass thickets.

15. カブトムシが空をぶんぶんと飛んでいる。 
     Beetles are buzzing through the air.  

16. 風がぴゅうぴゅうとく、寒い日でした。
      It was a cold day with the wind really blowing.

Grammar Note: The last example shows how a verbal expression can be used as an attribute when another attribute is used at the same time. Notice the use of the comma. 


 To harp くだくだ(と)いう
 To nag がみがみ(と)する To be fluent ぺらぺら(と)
 To murmur ぶつぶつ(と)いう To buzz がやがや To be outspoken ぽんぽん(と)いう
 To chatter ぺちゃくちゃ(と)しゃべる
 To scold がんがん(と)いう To swallow  ぼそぼそ(と)いう
 To whisper ひそひそ(と)いう To grunt ぶうぶう(と)いう Noisily わいわい(と)

Eating & Drinking

 To gulp ごくごく(と)飲む
 To guzzle がつがつ(と)食べる
 Crunchy こりこり(と)する Scraping; hard to the teeth ごりごり(と)
 To gobble ぱくぱく(と)食べる To suck ちゅうちゅう(と)吸う
 To swallow ごくり(と)飲む
 To gnaw


 To sneer
 せせら To chuckle
 くすくす(と)笑う Laughing 
 あはは: いひひ
 うふふ: えへへ
 おほほ: ははは
 ひひひ: くっくっ
 To cackle けらけら(と)笑う
 To guffaw

Laughing Sounds Notes: Each of the different options in the lower right hand corner have different nuances. The first is a rather happy laugh; the second is more sinister; the third is a feminine chuckle; the fourth is used when you're embarrassed; the fifth gives an impression of rich people; the sixth is a loud laugh; the seventh is like the second; the last is a stifled laughter. 

With 来る

With onomatopoeia and と, 来る shows some sort of reaction. This may be a physical or an emotional reaction. Whatever the case may be, the verb still keeps its sense of "to come."

15. わさびがはなにつんと来た。 
      Wasabi got in my nose big time.

16. 静電気せいでんきがびりっと来る。
      For static electricity to shock you.

17. ぼくにはしっくり来ない。
      It doesn't fit well with me. 

18. ぴったり来る音楽  
      Agreeable music

19. カチンと来る。
      To get angry.