by Liz Walter
Quiet is a word that English students learn early in their studies. Today we are going to look at some more specific and subtle ways of talking about quietness and silence.
Something or someone that is silent makes no noise at all. We sometimes say that people do things in silence, while the collocation deathly silence is used when the lack of noise is ominous:
The streets were silent at that time of night.
You must sit here in silence.
When he finished speaking, there was a deathly silence in the room.
Possibly the most famous oxymoron of all – a deafening silence – is used to describe a situation where you might expect a response and it is very noticeable and significant that nobody says anything. We often use the collocation be met with a deafening silence:
Her complaints about bullying were met with a deafening silence.
The slightly formal words soundless and noiseless (and their related adverbs soundlessly and noiselessly) describe things that are silent. They are often used for things you would normally expect to make a noise:
They are developing soundless electronic scooters.
She moved quickly and noiselessly through the rooms.
If something is inaudible, people can’t hear it, usually because it is very quiet, unclear or outside the range of human hearing. We often use this word (or the adverb inaudibly) to describe the way someone speaks:
Their dialogue was practically inaudible.
He mumbled inaudibly into his soup.
A soft sound is quiet and pleasant. If a sound is muted, it is not as loud as usual, and if it is muffled, it is not clear, usually because something is covering or blocking it:
We lay there, listening to the soft sound of rain falling.
The muted sound of cow bells drifted across the valley.
We could hear muffled voices in the other room.
If we say that someone is speaking in a low voice, we mean that they are speaking quietly, and if they say something under their breath, they deliberately say it quietly:
‘Meet me later,’ she said in a low voice.
He fiddled with the machine, swearing under his breath.
If someone is as quiet as a mouse, they are very quiet. We use the phrase as quiet/silent as the grave to describe a place that is quiet in a frightening way or a person who never says anything. If you say that you could hear a pin drop, you mean that a place is extremely quiet:
The children were as quiet as mice.
The building was as silent as the grave.
When he sat at the piano, you could hear a pin drop in the hall.
I hope you find these words and phrases useful. Look out for my next post, which will cover the opposite: words and phrases connected with noise and being noisy.
11 thoughts on “You could hear a pin drop: more interesting ways of saying ‘quiet’”
I enjoyed reading your article in peace & quiet. I remember hearing the one about a mouse but it was as quiet as a church when I did.
However, one thing that bewilders me is whether we can call ‘imperceptible’ the opposite of ‘inaudible’. According to the dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/inaudible), ‘audible’ & ‘imperceptible’ are the opposites of ‘inaudible’. While it is obviously true about ‘audible’, it hardly applies to ‘imperceptible’ meaning something that is unable to be noticed or felt because of being very slight. The example sentence says: She heard a faint, almost imperceptible cry.
Thanks for pointing this out. This is an error in our entry for ‘inaudible’. It should be under the heading ‘compare’. If you go to https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/imperceptible, you’ll see that ‘inaudible’ is correctly headed. I will now fix the entry for ‘inaudible’ to match this.
Don’t mention it. Just trying to improve your dictionary.
There is one more little thing to bring up, though…
Speaking of sounds/voices… There is this article about voices by Liz (https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2019/12/18/a-frog-in-my-throat-talking-about-voices/) where she mentions the adjective croaky. Albeit mentioned, there’s no such an adjective at the dictionary. You’ve got the verb croak as well as the noun croak, but the adjective croaky has still been missing. You might want to consider getting one incorporated.
We noticed this too. We’ve now compiled an entry for ‘croaky’, which will be in the next update.
Southern variation: Quiet as a mouse pissin’ on cotton
one of the wonderful article regarding the silence. unfortunately i was reading it in a market and i could not understand it until i created a pin drop silence around me!
On Wed, Nov 11, 2020 at 5:02 AM About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog wrote:
> Liz Walter posted: ” by Liz Walter Quiet is a word that English students > learn early in their studies. Today we are going to look at some more > specific and subtle ways of talking about quietness and silence. Something > or someone that is silent makes no noise at all. W” >
Today I have learnt new expressions in English! Thank you!!