How to Describe Sounds

How to Describe Sounds

“The temple bell stops, but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.”

Matsuo Basho, the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan

It was a dark and stormy night; I shut my eyes…

The windows rattled in the wind and there was a distant rumble of thunder. Trees rustled and big raindrops splashed onto the windows.

Then someone beeped their horn and a car stopped with a screech of breaks. Someone slammed the car door shut…footsteps squelched through the mud…a floorboard on the stairs creaked…and there was a high-pitched scream – from me!

This horror story is so colorful and dramatic because it is full of expressive sound vocabulary. If you want to become a better story teller, make sure you know and can use the words from the table below ⬇️. You can practice the vocabulary by doing the exercise we have prepared for you.

WordDirect meaningFigurative meaning
To rattle (verb)
Rattle (noun)
Small stones rattled on the underside of the car.
The roof rattled with little gusts of wind.
Don’t rattle me! (= Don’t make me nervous!)
The noise has been rattling us for some time.
To rumble (verb)
Rumble (noun)
We can hear thunder rumbling in the distance.
The silence of the night was punctuated by the distant rumble of traffic.
Her stomach rumbled (= made a vibrating noise due to hunger). She hadn’t eaten any breakfast.
Your stomach is rumbling. Let’s have lunch.
To rustle /’rʌsl/ (verb)
Rustle (noun)
The leaves on the branch rustled and shook.
A snake rustled through the dry grass. 
We need to rustle (= act fast and energetically! (American English))! Otherwise our competitors will outstrip us.
Why are you rustling around the kitchen?
To splash (verb)
Splash (noun)
Some paint splashed onto the rug.
We hit the water with a mighty splash.
Don’t splash (= waste (British English)) your money on such things!
He wanted to splash out on a new car. 
To screech (verb)
Screech (noun)
The car screeched to a standstill (= It stopped very suddenly, making a loud high noise).
The car drove off at speed, its tires screeching.
The economic recovery is likely to screech to a standstill (= stop very suddenly) if taxes are increased.
Work on the tax legislation has come to a screeching halt in Congress.
To slam (verb)
Slam (noun)
She slammed the door shut.
He slams the door behind him as he leaves.
Although the reviewers slammed (= criticized) the play, the audience loved it.
The new TV soap was slammed as being cynical and irresponsible.
To squelch (verb)
Squelch (noun)
Squelch through the water only wearing gum boots.
He squelched across the turf. 
The politician has squelched (= quickly ended) rumors about his ill health.
The authoritarian president has been trying to squelch the protests.
To creak (verb)
Creak (noun)
I heard the floorboards creak as he crept closer.
The stairs creaked as she went up them.
The system started to creak. (= It started to show its frailty under strain.)
These methods are old and creaking.
To squeal (verb)
Squeal (noun)
Somewhere in the street tires were squealing (= making a long high sound).
I could hear the girls squealing with delight.
Why are you squealing (= loudly complaining (British English))?
He’s been squealing for months. I can’t take it any longer.

Practice

Click the link here and match the words to the pictures.

Animal sounds

WordDirect meaningFigurative meaning
To bark 🐶 (verb)
Bark (noun)
Our dog always barks at strangers.
A small dog barked at a seagull he was chasing.
He started barking (= he angrily shouted) orders at me.
I didn’t mean to bark at you.
To howl /haʊl/ 🐺 (verb)
Howl (noun)
I hear a wolf howling in the forest.
Somewhere in the streets beyond a dog suddenly howled, baying at the moon.
(to bay = to howl) 
The children all started howling (= crying loudly to indicate pain/unhappiness/anger/sadness).
The baby was howling for her 3am feed.
To growl /graʊl/ 🐯 (verb)
Growl (noun)
The dog growled at me and I didn’t dare come closer.
The tiger in the cage is growling.
‘I couldn’t care less,’ Ben growled (= replied in an unfriendly/angry way).
His fury was so great he could hardly speak. He growled some unintelligible words at Pete.
To buzz 🐝 (verb)
Buzz (noun)
The bees are buzzing in the beehive.
The fly is buzzing so annoyingly.
A few tourists were buzzing about (= moving quickly and busily).
Jane buzzed around serving drinks and chatting to her guests.
To roar /rɔː(r)/ 🦁 (verb)
Roar (noun)
Listen to the lion roaring. That’s incredible!
The tiger’s roar has frightened the zoo visitors.
It was a performance that had spectators roaring (= shouting excitedly) in appreciation.
‘Come here at once,’ he roared (= he said in a deep/loud/angry voice).
To squeak 🐭 (verb)
Squeak (noun)
The mouse has been squeaking somewhere in the room.
The door opened with a slight squeak.
I have assured them that you will not squeak (= inform on us).
I can’t believe you squeaked on me! How can I ever trust you again?
To crow 🐓 (crew; crown) (verb)
Crow (noun)
She was awakened in the mornings by roosters crowing.
Hens crow to assert their dominance and establish a territory.
Ruby crowed with delight. (= She talked very proudly about what she had done.)
I hate his crowing about all his successes and triumphs.
To hoot 🦉 (verb)
Hoot (noun)
Owls hooted, the new moon rose.
Owls primarily hoot to claim their territory and fend off any would-be intruders.
She began to hoot (= shout loudly) with laughter.
The audience broke into hoots of laughter.
To hiss 🐍 (verb)
Hiss (noun)
When I tried to pick the cat up it started hissing at me.
I’m scared of the snake hissing at me.
‘Stop that at once!’ she hissed (= said in a low angry voice).
‘Get back!’ he hissed
To grunt 🐷 (verb)
Grunt (noun)
An enormous pig grunted and shuffled in a sty outside.
Scientists plan to develop a software tool to monitor the grunts of commercial pigs and determine when they need help.
‘Are you still here?’ he grunted (= he said using low short sounds).
She grunted a reply.
To croak 🐸 (verb)
Croak (noun)
Croaking is one of the most common noises a frog makes. 
I hear a crow croaking.

The dog finally croaked (= died (slang)) in 1987.
The old man croaked a few years ago.

Practice

Click the link here and match the words to the pictures.

Click the link here and choose the right words to complete the sentences.

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