Internet searches produce lists of onomatopoeia/mimetic words, but I have found little guidance about how and when to use—or not use—them. Besides scouring this website, I’ve looked at as many other sites as I could find without securing answers to the following questions.

  1. One writer stated that these words can be used as adverbs, adjectives, or verbs, giving the examples:
    • はっきりと話す (speak plainly) adverb
    • はっきりとした赤と青 (clear red and blue) adjective
    • 記憶をはっきりさせる (refresh one's memory) verb.
    Another writer commented, “Some gitaigo may be used like nouns: びしょびしょになる (become wet).” [my emphasis added] Is there some pattern that determines which ones can be used as nouns and which cannot?

  2. Some writers say that it is optional whether one adds the particle と after the mimetic word, one person on this website stating that と makes the expression slightly more formal. So is it fair to say that there are no possible etiquette or grammar stumbles in adding/not adding that particle?

  3. I am guessing that the と following these words serves the same purpose as it does immediately after quotations. Is this so?

  4. Are there situations in which using these kinds of words would be inappropriate? If so, when/where?

  5. Finally, is it acceptable, or perhaps even commonplace, for people to use their own interpretations of sounds, feelings, or emotions rather than the words given in lists? For example, the foxes where I live do not bark in a way that sounds like コンコン. To me, the sound is ヤッーヤッー. And the frogs around here don’t seem to call ケロケロ, but rather ウリープッウリープッ. I understand that mimetic words are learned/memorized in the same ways as other words, but some people also invent new words that are immediately understood by their listeners/readers.

Apologies for asking so many questions in one post, but this vocabulary category is a new frontier for me, and I’ve found limited usage guidance.

  • Small-ツ is not done by markup formatting. It is actually a different character, which can be typed as "xtsu"/"xtu" or "ltsu"/"ltu" ("little tsu") on most Japanese IMEs (or typing つ and then hitting the 小 key on mobile keyboards). For example, "yaxtsu-yaxtsu-" = "ヤッーヤッー".
    – Foogod
    Nov 9, 2022 at 19:24
  • 2
    At the same time, I'm having trouble imagining what ヤッー could sound like, since I'm not sure what would be extended by the ー after you've halted things with the ッ.
    – Leebo
    Nov 9, 2022 at 22:13
  • Foogod, Thank you for that info. I've made a note of it for future use.
    – NattoYum
    Nov 9, 2022 at 23:04
  • Leebo, the sound of the 「あ」in 「や」is clipped, emphasizing the "y" sound, but the resulting sound extends a bit before the call is repeated. Perhaps I didn't write it correctly.
    – NattoYum
    Nov 9, 2022 at 23:10
  • 1
    I don’t see why びしょびしょ in びしょびしょになる should not be regarded as an adjective.
    – aguijonazo
    Nov 10, 2022 at 2:36

1 Answer 1


Not a complete answer, hopefully it helps.

4. Onomatopoeias in general are less likely to be used if the register is formal. For example, 明確に回答する may be better than はっきり答える in business documents. But in conversation (and in writing unless you are in specific jobs), I don't think you should worry too much.

3. In short, no. It is a matter of opinions, but most dictionaries have the following.

5 (副詞に付いて新たな副詞をつくり)ある状態を説明する意を表す。「そろそろ―歩く」「そよそよ―風が吹く」

Note that はっきりと言う does not mean to say はっきり.

1-2. It amounts to whether the onomatopoeia works as an adverb.

As the above definition for と says, it appends to adverbs, so onomatopoeias working as adverbs can be appended by と. Some other onomatopoeias work only as adjectives, so cannot be appended by と.

Ultimately you'd need to look up a monolingual dictionary. For example,

  • はっきり is listed as 副 (for 副詞=adverb) so can come with と, but ×はっきりになる does not work.
  • かぴかぴ is listed as 形動 (for 形容動詞=na-adjective). So ×かぴかぴと but かぴかぴになる is ok.
  • つるつる is listed as both, so つるつるなる and つるつる滑る are both possible.

A complication is びしょびしょ is listed as both, and has the example びしょびしょ(と)雨が降る. But this is not really common in modern usage, I believe.

5 The short answer is that you can create your own onomatopoeia, but you cannot do it randomly.

For example, we hear chickens's crowing コケコッコー and not cockadoodledoo. Here in a sense the language defines what we hear and the physical sound is not really relevant. It is interesting to see your description of the sounds made by foxes or frogs, but it is regarded more like transcriptions of those sounds.

You can see the following question.

  • Thank you for this very helpful explanation, sundowner. There is much for me to absorb here. Your final sentence differentiating transcriptions from this other kind of words is especially clarifying.
    – NattoYum
    Nov 11, 2022 at 2:10

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