The title pretty much says it all: what is the English equivalent (if such exists) for "unsightly" when applied to sound?

"Ill-sounding" isn't as succinct and brings to mind the actual sounds of illness.

"Cacophonous" isn't as succinct and frankly requires knowing the word before understanding it.

Unaural or disaural aren't words, and require knowing that "aural" has to do with hearing anyway.

Is there a word for "unsightly" sound?

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    Questions on choosing an ideal word or phrase must include information on how it will be used in order to be answered. Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 19:08
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    There isn't any analog that's as easy and common as unsightly. Note that we have a derived word sight from the same root as see, but nothing like *hearght from hear. The broader the bandwidth, the broader the descriptive spectrum. We have kazillions of words for colors and shapes and movements, but much fewer for non-visual senses. The chemical senses are far more sensitive, but they don't form images that can be easily recalled and described. And hearing is a poor cousin to vision, lexically. Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 20:18
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because glance in a thesaurus for this.
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 13:44
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    @marcellothearcane according to the close banner the question lacked researched. But the OP did include the research. They included at least three solutions and explained why neither of them worked, I believe it should be reopened.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 16:13
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    @Mari-Lou agreed. Not sure why I VTCed... Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 16:16

9 Answers 9


The word "grating" might fit because something that is "unsightly" could also be described as an unpleasant sound or something that is not good to our ears (a harsh sound). When something is grating, it's extremely harsh and irritating, like the grating sound of your alarm clock early on a Monday morning. As an adjective, grating is particularly good for describing unpleasant sounds, like the grating voice of someone who's nagging you.


: sounding harsh and unpleasant.

"a high, grating voice"

Here are some example sentences (from Oxford) -

The man had rambled at her too, in a gravely, grating voice, explaining who he was and where he was taking her.

The rough grating voices tore through the darkness and pierced his ears.

Then he laughed a harsh, grating laugh Kaitlin had never heard.

With a harsh grating sound, the lid slid off, exposing its contents: a small black metal box, the size of a briefcase.

There was a harsh, tinny grating sound, echoing into his ears, as the sphere ground against the wall.



The Cambridge University Dictionary entry for the noun, dissonance — from which this adjective comes — has:

A combination of sounds or musical notes that are not pleasant when heard together.

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    This generally fits the bill, but it doesn't apply well to a single source of sound - as the definition states, it's typically used to describe sounds that are unpleasant when heard together, although they may be just fine individually. A single source of sound wouldn't be called dissonant, but unsightly can apply to individual objects. Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 20:42
  • @NuclearWang — You are correct in saying it is not an exact fit, but it would be naive to expect one. More to the point, whereas the usage of dissonance applies to sounds or music as a whole, dissonant is often used to describe one note that is out of concert with the rest. The poster provided no example sentence, so I thought I’d throw this in.
    – David
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 21:02
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    @NuclearWang Like David, I agree it's not an exact fit, but – to play devil's advocate – "a single source of sound" doesn't necessarily mean "one note"... a damaged/badly-tuned instrument can produce multiple notes/harmonics that are dissonant. Also, the OED's definition ("Disagreeing or discordant in sound, inharmonious; harsh-sounding, unmelodious, jarring.", my bolding) doesn't focus on "a combination" of sounds as much as the quoted one does.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 14:33

harsh Merriam

causing a disagreeable or painful sensory reaction

As in:

... a harsh sound

There are many shades of meaning for the word harsh and all imply that something is more unpleasant than it needs to be. In this case harsh sounds hurts your ears and rattle your teeth!

“The harsh sound makes you cover your ears.”


The audible equivalent of sightly is probably mellifluous.

Therefore it's antonyms are words like:

Jarring, harsh, unmelodious, inharmonious, etc.

Mellifluous thesaurus entry - see antonyms section


A direct "sound equivalent" of unsightly would be unmusical. Compare the definitions below and the similarity is obvious.


unmusical ADJECTIVE
1 Not pleasing to the ear.

‘a loud, unmusical noise’

unsightly ADJECTIVE
Unpleasant to look at; ugly.

‘He said rubbish on motorways is unsightly and poses a danger to both drivers and animals.’


There is no one single word, it depends on what type of audio (speech? singing? music? background/ambient? death metal?), and what type of defect:

  • noisy, hissing, crackling, screeching, skipping...
  • unharmonious, discordant, tone-deaf, wailing, cacophonous...
  • tinny, unnatural if you're talking about low audio bandwidth (<4 KHz) on human voice e.g. telephone or codec
  • pinched, nasal, adenoidal
  • atonal
  • and many others

(Arguably 'unsightly' is also only one of many choices for the visual equivalent)


The cliché version is “like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Idiom - referring to an extremely annoying, unpleasant uncomfortably loud sound or noise. Usually referring to someone's voice.

I call it a cliché because it is overused to describe an extremely unpleasant sound, even though not everyone reacts to that sound as is supposed.

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    Obviously, since the cliche is a sound-related equivalent to “unsightly,” it does answer the question.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 6:24
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    Sorry, that should have said 'please include some definitions to explain why this works'. Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 6:28

As sound is to sight
or as sight is to sound
to get this one right
well just turn things around.
If "unsightly" means ugly
it's clear what must be done
Just use sound as your subject
and negate it with "un"
then though it's not an adverb
add "ly" to the end
Thus the noise you don't like
is "unsoundly" my friend.

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    This is not correct. "unsound" or "unsoundly" has a different meaning and connotation unsound "not safe or robust; in poor condition." and similar definitions
    – TecBrat
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 18:04
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    It is obviously a joke and people around here to lighten up. It's a cowboy poem and quite good, too.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 23:46
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    Hey that was a pretty good poem
    – Samie Bee
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 10:45

I'd suggest "unlistenable".

It seems that many of the other answers refer to specific characteristics of music (lack of melody, etc) whereas "unsightly" refers to the overall unpleasantness of a view.

"Unlistenenable" means "impossible to listen to and enjoy" and is relatively broad in the senses of how it can be used.



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