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How to use onomatopoeia in Japanese

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How to use onomatopoeia in Japanese

Welcome back to another “Video & Article” series, this time for another live-stream with tutor Erika. In this live-stream we will take a look at onomatopoeic words in Japanese. These words phonetically imitate, resemble or suggest the sound they describe. While they exist in every language, use of onomatopoeia in Japanese is quite extensive. Let’s take a look at a few common onomatopoeic words in Japanese.

Table of Contents
[Introduction]
[Examples]
[Summary]

[Introduction]

Onomatopoeia are words that try to phonetically imitate, resemble or suggest the sound of whatever they describe. Oftentimes, especially in Japanese, this is an attempt to suggest a sound of an action that does not actually have a sound. These words are called 擬音語(ぎおんご) or 擬態語(ぎたいご) in Japanese.

擬音語(ぎおんご)
An onomatopoeic word

擬態語(ぎたいご)
Mimetic word (there is no actual sound)

[Examples]

にこにこ
にこにこ is a mimetic word that expresses a person smiling. Of course, smiling people don’t really make a sound, but ニコニコ expresses the idea of what a smiling person could sound like.

Example:

彼女(かのじょ)はいつもニコニコしてるね!
She is always smiling!

ぽかぽか
ぽかぽか expresses a comfortably warm feeling, like a warm spring day or a warm but not scorching hot bath.

Example:

(はる)陽気(ようき)(からだ)がぽかぽかするね!
My body feels warm and fuzzy because of the nice spring weather.

だらだら
だらだら expresses sloppiness and laziness. This could be used to describe an animal or a person. This word can be used as a sound word, but also in everyday conversation. A very similar word is のろのろ, which means slowly, or sluggishly.

Example:

だらだらしていないで勉強(べんきょう)しなさい!(お(かあ)さんから息子(むすこ)に)
Don’t be lazy, go and study! (Mom to son)

のろのろ
運転(うんてん)
Driving slowly

もぞもぞ
もぞもぞ is a word that expresses wiggling, or stirring restlessly. Anything that is alive can “もぞもぞ”, be it a person or a worm. You will find this often as a “sound effect” in manga, but it’s also used in everyday conversation!

Example:

子供(こども)退屈(たいくつ)するともぞもぞしだす。
Children grow restless when they get bored.

ごろごろ
ごろごろ has two meanings. First, it expresses something or something rolling around on a surface. Second, it means someone rolling around on the floor being lazy. It basically means to chill out at home!

Example:

今日(きょう)(いえ)でごろごろします。
Today I’ll just chill at home.

きらきら
きらきら means that something is shining, sparkling, glittering or twinkling. That could be a person’s eyes or shiny objects such as metals, rocks or stars. This is used as a sound effect in manga, but also in everyday conversation.

Example:

(ほし)がキラキラ(かがや)いている。
The stars are shining above.

[Summary]

You can use onomatopoeia and mimetic words to make your Japanese sound more lively and natural. There many of these words, and very few mime an actual sound, so you will need to learn them by heart or get accustomed to them by listening to a lot of Japanese. But it’s not impossible at all, and especially reading manga will make learning these a lot easier!

That’s it for today. If you have any questions, you can always clear them up by booking a lesson with one of our native Japanese tutors. See you next time!

単語たんごリスト(Vocabulary list)
にこにこ(する) Smile
ぽかぽか Feeling warm throughout your body
だらだら Sluggish, lazy
もぞもぞ To be restless, to wiggle around
のろのろ Slowly, sluggishly
ごろごろ To roll around, to chill out
きらきら To sparkle, twinkle, glitter, shine, etc.

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