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 – What Does “Hop Là” Mean in French?
The onomatopoeia “Hop là” is used in French in a way in which English has no parallel.
The concept of “hop là” has to do with a lifting or jumping motion.
English speakers do say ‘upsy daisy’, ‘up you go’ when lifting up a child, but not nearly as frequently as French say “hop là” in the same context: this French sound is really associated to the action of picking up a child.
French people say “hop là” when lifting their groceries, or when picking something that has fallen onto the ground.
We also just say “hop”, or “et hop”…
Et hop, c’est fini – And just like that, it’s done.
Allez, hop ! On y va – C’mon, let’s go!
We’d say “hop, hop, hop” when doing something in a sequence, kind of ‘tack tack tack’ in English…
So, now you understand the expression “hop là” pops up all the time in French, much more frequently than parallel expressions are used in English. Watch my “Spoken French practice video”: you’ll see that I use so many onomatopoeia in this episode! You can turn the CC on in English or French. More about learning French with Minecraft.
2 – “Smack!” – Not what you’d expect!!
In English ‘smack’ is the often a sound associated with slapping or hitting someone.
This was quite a suprise for me since in French, “smack” is quite the opposite: “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)
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”…
3 – French Onomatopoeia for Sleeping = Ron-ron
No Zzzz for us, but a very strong French R sound: “ron-ron”. Note this is also the sound of a cat purring in French!
4 – Hushing in French = Chut
Chut ! Elle dort !
Hush, she’s sleeping !
Pretty loud for a hushing sound if you consider the T is pronounced. This is how “soft” the French T is….
5 – French Sound for Falling Into Water = Plouf
It is so funny to see some sounds are almost the same between French and English… The French onomatopoeia for falling into water is “plouf” – close enough to ‘plop’. Yet, the French onomatopoeia for falling on the ground is “patatra” – that’s really far from ‘kaboum’!
6 – Firing a Gun, Bang-Bang = Pan-pan !
“Pan-pan” is pronounced with a nasal sound, like the “an” in “Maman”.
7 – The French Sound for Disgust = Beurk
No “Yack” in French but quite a different sound: “beurk”, or simply “berk”!
8 – What’s Yum in French?
‘Yum’ in French becomes “miam”. Yet another case of a written sound being different, yet somewhat similar between French and English.
French people often show their appreciation for food by saying “oh miam !”: we often repeat it three times: “miam- miam-miam !” and as we are eating, we often hum a “mmmm” sound. More about commenting on food in French in this article.
9 – French Onomatopoeia for Pain = Aïe
The French sound for pain is “aïe”, and we pronounced it just like an “eye” in english.
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!
10 – French Baby Sounds = Ouin-ouin and Areuh-areuh
These two have to be my favorites French sounds: “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.
If you liked this blog, may I suggest you check out my “laughter and April’s fool vocabulary” article, as well as “French Puns and Jokes with audio” series.