I'm writing a short story and I would like to know how to add an onomatopoeia in a sentence. Do I have to underline it? Can an onomatopoeia be a sentence on its own? Thank you for answering.

  • Onomatopoeia has to do with how words sound, not how they look on a page. – Hot Licks Oct 31 '16 at 0:37
  • I don’t think you can have “an” onomatopoeia. You can have instance of onomatopoeia or onomatopoetic word, but it’s not a count noun in my language. – tchrist Oct 31 '16 at 0:59
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    It's a judgment call whether (for example) to italicize (or underline) swish (twice) in this sentence: "The wiper blades made a soft, cadenced swish, swish as the car purred along the wet, black highway and the rain pelted down"—but arguably both purred and pelted have an onomatopoeic aspect, too, and yet I wouldn't think that anyone would be inclined to italicize (or underline) either of those words in my example. So there is clearly a continuum of justification—ranging from strong to very weak—for highlighting onomatopoeic words in some way. – Sven Yargs Oct 31 '16 at 1:47

You can do just about anything in fiction, as long as it works. (Caveat - if you're taking a course, do what the teacher says.) And yes, you'd probably either underline (which is typewriter formatting to indicate italics) or italicize the word.

That is, I'm assuming you mean something along the lines of

Bang! Sinaid jumped. Was that a gunshot?

or, perhaps,

Charlie listened carefully. Pee-yert! Pee-yert! That high, squeaky call was a northern beardless tyrannulet. Evidently he'd been dumped somewhere in northern Mexico, or perhaps southeastern Arizona.

On the other hand, you would not italicize or underline it here:

Sinaid heard a bang. She jumped. Was that a gunshot?

And if Charlie was talking, the format probably would be "I heard the 'pee-yert' of a northern beardless tyrannulet, and knew I was in northern Mexico -- maybe southeastern Arizona."

Looking for some sources, I find http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/06/did-you-hear-that.html , which includes an example very like my first.


includes, from a song in Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Hark, hark! I hear / The strain of strutting chanticleer / Cry, ‘cock-a-diddle-dow!'

(I put slashes in because, for some reason, I couldn't get the lines of the song to drop down to new lines)

You'll note that there's no itals there or in that page's next example, because the sounds are being described rather than transcribed, as it were.

He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling. -- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

FWIW, good places online to talk about writing fiction include forums.compuserve.com/discussions/Books_and_Writers_Community/ws-books? Membership is free.

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