Japanese onomatopoeias

Learn more about the Japanese onomatopoeias!
Japanese onomatopoeias

This part of the Japanese language goes especially for those who like manga. Although onomatopoeias are usually seen in comic books, they are also part of Japanese daily life, of course in lesser quantity.

Japanese onomatopoeias usually imitate the sounds of nature, but some of them may represent physical or psychological states, with no equivalent onomatopoeias in Portuguese or English. In addition, some other onomatopoeias can act as Japanese adverbs.

Another interesting thing is that Japanese onomatopoeias are a little different from what we are used to. The way the Japanese speak, or describe sounds, is so different from our language that it takes a while to understand.

Mouse over kanji to see their pronunciation and translation.

For study purposes, I have divided Japanese onomatopoeias into two parts, the words used to imitate sounds (擬音語) and the words used to represent physical and psychological states (擬態語).

Japanese onomatopoeias that imitate sounds

The concept of this type of onomatopoeia in Japanese is very similar to the onomatopoeia in Portuguese. Their basic principle is to imitate the sounds of our everyday lives.

Some of the most common Japanese onomatopoeias are:

ドキドキ
This word is closely associated with the heartbeat and reflects states of nervousness and excitement.

ペラペラ
Referring to the way something or someone speaks, indicating fluency in speaking.

シクシク
Do something silently, like silently crying.

ゲラゲラ
Doing something loud, like laughing loudly.

ペコペコ
ペコペコ is associated with hunger. It represents the noise the stomach makes when we are hungry. I thought it was kind of weird, but that's okay.

パクパク
Doing something with enthusiasm, usually related to eating with enthusiasm.

ガラガラ
Usually related to the action of sliding or opening something that drags, like opening a door.

ドカン
Explosion noise. Our well known BUM!

ワンワン
Dog's bark.

ニャンニャン
Cats meow.

ケロケロ
The noise the frog makes.

カチカチ
clock sound tick-tack.

ポックリポックリ
Sound of running horse. pocotó pocotó

See too:
Learn to draw anime now!
How to ask questions in Japanese

some laughter in japanese

フフフフ – fufufufu
ハハハハ - hahahaha
ほほほほ - hohohohoho
ヘヘヘヘ - hehehehe
ヒヒヒヒ - hihihihi

Onomatopoeias that mimic states

As the word itself makes clear, 擬態語, means words that imitate, or represent, states.

This concept is a little different from 擬音語 and from the Portuguese language, where words are used to imitate sounds. THE 擬態語 uses more conceptual words that show the state of people or characters from anime and manga, telling if they are sad, tired, excited or not. As there is no sound for this, the Japanese use onomatopoeias 擬態語.

Thinking about didactics, we can divide the Japanese onomatopoeias from the gigaigo into two groups: words that describe physical conditions and words that describe psychological conditions.

Words that describe physical conditions

They usually describe states such as thirst, tiredness, exhaustion and so on. Below is a list of common words.

カラカラ
Being thirsty, very thirsty, dry, dehydrated.

ピカピカ
Be bright, insightful, lucid, conscientious, clean, new.

ジット
The act of staring, staring into the eyes.

グット
Quit suddenly, by surprise.

グルグル
Go around in circles, around, around.

キラキラ
Sparkle, shine, sparkle, blind, dazzle.

ホット
Help, relieve, remedy.

ワクワク
Getting nervous, excited. By referring to the heartbeat, I decided to classify it as a physical state.

ギリギリ
Arriving late, last minute, fair, just, tight.

バラバラ
Spread, spread, mixed.

ネバネバ
Sticky, gooey.

Words that describe psychological conditions

These Japanese onomatopoeias describe states like mental exhaustion, madness, irritation… It's a very different concept for me, but it leaves the Japanese language even more fascinating.

クタクタ
Being tired, exhausted.

イライラ
Being angry, angry or having a bad (poll bad with l and u) temperament.

シッカリ
Be confident, determined, firm.

メチャクチャ
Be messy, messy.

スッキリ
Feeling refreshed, renewed.

Japanese onomatopoeias and their uses

Many students starting to learn Japanese, just as I did, do not take the study of onomatopoeias in Japanese seriously. In the end, they end up having a scare when they find onomatopoeias in books, magazines, movies, series and animes.

As if the large number of onomatopoeias in the Japanese language were not enough, they can appear in the most unexpected places and cause a bit of confusion. In addition, Japanese onomatopoeias can also appear with verbs, to form expressions, and even in informal conversations, to illustrate what is being mentioned.

Summarizing the uses of Japanese onomatopoeias

Since I don't want to tire my readers with extensive explanations about the uses of onomatopoeias in Japanese, I decided to create a simple and practical summary, mentioning the things I learned about this subject.

Japanese onomatopoeias along with verbs

In many cases, Japanese onomatopoeias can appear together with verbs, forming very interesting expressions. It was in cases like this that I found ぐるぐるalong with 回る, forming the expression ぐるぐる回る, that means go around, walk in circles, walk around.

Another interesting case was that of ぱくぱく along with the verb 食べる, graduating ぱくぱく食べる, that means eat loudly or eat heartily.

Below are some other examples.

いらいらする
Be irritating, be irritated...

どきどきする
Be nervous, be nervous...

くたくただ
Getting exhausted, being exhausted. For those who don't know, だ is one of the forms of the verb desu.

Japanese onomatopoeias and the particle to

There are cases where the particle to appears between the verb and the onomatopoeia. I have never found a specific translation for this situation and, generally, the to particle doesn't seem to influence anything.

A good example of this is げらげらと笑う, which forms the expression ridicule, laugh or smile loudly.

Japanese onomatopoeias and the tto extension

Some Japanese onomatopoeias can be given a tto extension to facilitate pronunciation during conversations. This is the case for ぴた.

彼はぴたっと止まった。

concluding

There are thousands of onomatopoeias in Japanese that are used in thousands of other situations, and with different translations for each situation. This way, it is almost impossible to write an article covering them all.

To my delight, the rikaichan and Babylon Japanese dictionaries translate many Japanese onomatopoeias. So, here is the tip to look up the translation in Japanese dictionaries.

Another interesting thing about onomatopoeias is that they can be written in both hiragana and katakana. Each author uses personal criteria to choose between one alphabet and another. Because of this, it is common to find the same onomatopoeia in hiragana and katakana. In addition, the translation of an onomatopoeia into Japanese may also vary with time and usage.

Kanji calligraphy exercise

Below are the Japanese ideographic symbols used in this article. Selecting the desired kanji, copy and paste them into Worksheet for Kana and Kanji Practice , a new window will open where you can view the printable file and practice Japanese calligraphy by covering the gray symbols and then trying to write yourself. Just print and practice.

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