Paf ! Beurk ! Hop-là ! Aïe ! Let’s explore 10 fun French onomatopoeias (une onomatopée) and their English meanings + video featuring these bizarre French sounds
An Onomatopoeia (une onomatopée) is a made up written word which represents a sound. She slapped him: “smack”!! The baby cried: “wah-wah”.
This comes naturally in our own language, but it’s quite hilarious to see what these sound words become in another language! Here are my favorite top 10 French onomatopoeias.
1 – French Onomatopoeia for a Kiss in French = Smack!
Yeah, “Smack” is the sound of a soft kiss in French. We don’t go “kiss kiss”, but “smack, smack”. It’s even the common name for a peck on the lips. “Il m’a fait un smack” – he gave me a peck on the lips, a soft kiss. (More about French kisses in this article)
Imagine my surprise when I found out “smack” was the written sound for slapping in English! Quite the opposite…
In French, a slap (une gifle, une baffe) is accompanied by a big: “paf !” (we say “et paf, une baffe !). Other French sounds for hitting would be “vlan”, “pif” (especially when hitting someone on the nose), “pof”, “tchoc”, “tchac”, “bang”…
2 – French Onomatopoeia for Sleeping = Ron-ron
No Zzzz for us. Must be the French R.
3 – The French Onomatopoeia for Hushing = Chut
Pretty loud for a hushing sound if you consider the T is pronounced. This is how “soft” the French T is….
4 – French Onomatopoeia for Falling Into Water = Plouf
And the French onomatopoeia for falling on the ground is “patatra” (kaboum)… I really wonder where that one comes from!
5 – French Onomatopoeia for Firing a Gun, Bang-Bang = Pan-pan !
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“Pan-pan” is pronounced with a nasal sound, like the “an” in “Maman”.
6 – French Onomatopoeia for Disgust = Beurk
No “Yack” in French but quite a different onomatopoeia: “beurk”, or simply “berk”!
7 – The French Onomatopoeia for Enjoying Food = Miam
It’s our Yum! And we use it a lot. French people often show their appreciation for food by humming a “mmmm” sound. More about commenting on food in French in this article.
This is a bit far fetched, but I recorded a series of video for YouTube of “Modern French practice” with the videogame Minecraft. I use so many onomatopoeia in this episode! You can turn the CC on in English or French. More about learning French with Minecraft.
8 – French Onomatopoeia for Pain = Aïe
Pronounced it just like “eye”. We often repeat it three times: “aïe-aïe-aïe”! Sometimes it becomes “ouaïe” or we multiplie the ï’s… Representing a sound leaves a lot of room for creativity!
And the French sound for tickling is “guili-guili”. Pronounce this one with a hard G, the u is silent. So Gili-gili.
9 – What Does Hop Là Mean in French?
This is said in French in a way in which English has no parallel.
English speakers do say “upsy daisy” when lifting up a child, but not nearly as frequently as French say “hop là” in the same context.
People say “hop là” when lifting their groceries, or when picking something that has fallen onto the ground, or even just when doing something in a sequence: “hop, hop, hop” kind of ‘tack tack tack’ in English… The expression pops up all the time, much more frequently than parallel expressions are used in English. If you’ve watched my “Spoken French practice video above, you’ll see that I use it all the time!
10 – French Baby Sounds = Ouin-ouin and Areuh-areuh
These two have to be my favorites: “ouin-ouin”, featuring the nasal sound “in” for a crying baby, and “areuh-areuh” for cooning: how more French could this sound be?
Here a demonstration of “arheuh” in this video – granted you’ll hear the mom say “areuh” more than the baby!
I’ll spare you the crying baby…
All images in this blog post were taken from “Astérix Chez Rahàzade”, copyright Editions Albert René.