This is one area that sometimes dings me on tests. While I can generally figure out what is meant from context, I only know a handful offhand.

The question here is twofold:

  • Is there a specific name for this category of words?
  • Are there any references that specialize in this vocabulary?
  • Reduplication
    – user1478
    Apr 2, 2014 at 19:33
  • 1
    Snailboat gives you the term for this kind of phonological / word-formation process. Istrasci gives you the two terms for the classes of words that use this process in Japanese. Apr 3, 2014 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


There are actually two types of words here. One is [擬音語]{ぎ・おん・ご} which are onomotopoeia: words representing sounds. Some examples of this are ワンワン (dog barking), ガリガリ (scratching, crunching - like ガリガリ君 popsicles), and ころころ (sound of something rolling).

The other type is [擬態語]{ぎ・たい・ご} which "depict non-auditory senses". Your examples fall into this category.

Note that both categories contain many other examples that are not repeated, such as じっと(見る) (stare, look intently) or どしん (fall and thud).

As for references, check out our resources post on meta.

  • There are so many of these - I wonder if there if there is a frequency list out there? (Couldn't see one on the resources page.)
    – Tim
    Apr 3, 2014 at 2:43
  • @Kaji: If you need to learn some, there several decks on the anki-shared deck website: ankiweb.net/shared/decks/japanese
    – Tim
    Apr 3, 2014 at 9:17
  • 3
    These are pretty big topics in Japanese actually. There's whole books for learners dealing just with these. It's also exceptionally common for the two to be lumped together as onomatopoeia, probably since the other category isn't a major one in lots of other languages, including English. Apr 3, 2014 at 15:14
  • @Tim It wouldn't be too hard to take a list of these words and check a major corpus like Tsukuba Web Corpus to assemble your own frequency list. That said, I think you might need some strategy to account for variation in form, e.g. くるり(と)・くるっ(と)・くるくる(と), so it might not be trivial, either.
    – user1478
    Feb 14, 2016 at 0:46

These onomatopeic words are also described as オノマトペ -- "onomatope," オノマトペア -- "onomatopeia," as well as 擬声語 -- "giseigo."

For an extensive list of them, check out http://onomatoproject.com/list.html

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