French Onomatopoeia Posted by on Jun 19, 2020 in Language


Today I want to explore the linguistic phenomenon of onomatopoeia, which is the formation of a word from a sound associated with that word. It originates from the word ὀνοματοποιία in the Greek language which means ‘making or creating names’, and in English we use it to describe the unique words made to imitate sounds. In French, the word is onomatopée.

You may have already realized that onomatopée differ in each language, thanks to different pronunciation and spelling. In France cows do not moo and cats do not hiss. The French do not say yum when presented with a mouth-watering bowl of bœuf bourgignon, and they certainly do not glug-glug when drinking a vintage Bordeaux wine. Let’s see what the French say instead…

Sounds of humans:

boire, glou glou = to drink, glug glug

manger, miam = to eat, yum

éternuer, atchoum = to sneeze, achoo

se blesser, aïe = to hurt oneself, ow

beurk! = yuck!

heu, euh = um, hm

faire chut à, chut = to shushshh

crier, pleurer, ouin-ouin = to cry, wah-wah

dormir, rrr, ron-pshi = to sleep, zzzz

Sounds of animals: 

miauler, miaou = to meow, meow

aboyer, ouaf ouaf = to bark, ruff ruff

siffler, siff = to hiss, hiss

meugler, meuh = to moo, moo

grogner, grouin grouin = to grunt, oink oink

hurler, aoouu = to howl, awooo

hululer, ouh ouh = to hoot, hoo hoo

Sounds of objects: 

tic-tac – tick-tock

dring-dring – ring-ring

dingue-dongue – ding-dong

plouf – splash

patatra – kaboom

pan-pan – bang-bang

My favorite French onomatopée that doesn’t seem to have a good English translation is “hop-là!” Usually used when picking up something off the ground – kids, groceries, etc. The best thing to do when learning these types of phrases is to just listen carefully to those around you and when they use it contextually and mimic it!

This is just a short list of many instances of onomatopée that you may see in French text to describe certain sounds made by objects, humans, and animals. Images courtesy of the bande dessinée, or comic book, Astérix. Comic books are a great way to learn the language, as well as see lots of fun examples of  onomatopoeia!

Have you heard or know any others? Comment them below!


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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Client Engagement Associate for TL. Gaelophile. (Soon to be) Digital Nomad. Check out my personal blog, A Polyglot's Inkblot:


  1. Marcia:

    Hop-la = Upsy-daisy or Up you go!

    • Bridgette:

      @Marcia A good translation when we pick up kids, yes! The French love to use it so much more often than we would use upsy-daisy, though. 🙂