Rustling leaves and the howling wind (Sounds, Part 2)

yellow leaves being blown from a tree on a windy day
Blair Fethers/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

In my last ‘sounds’ post, I looked at noises often heard in a city, such as the ‘hum’ of traffic and sirens ‘wailing’. Today I’m focusing on some more pleasant sounds – those often heard outdoors.

Let’s start with the nicest sound of all – birdsong. For this, we use several onomatopoeic words (= words that sound similar to the noises the words refer to). For example, for the short, high sound that birds make, we say tweet, chirp and cheep. (‘Cheep’ is often used for the weaker sound of a baby bird.)

A bird was tweeting away outside my window. / You could hear the birds chirping in the hedgerow. / It sounded like the cheeping of a baby bird.

Other birdsong words are twitter and chatter, suggesting lots of short, high sounds in rapid succession:

All is quiet except for the birds twittering. / The only sound was the chatter of birds.

Finally for birds, the word warble suggests a continuous sound, with rapidly changing notes: She loved to hear the birds warbling in the spring.

Of course, birdsong isn’t the only sound we hear outdoors. The wind in the trees may cause the leaves to rustle (=make a soft dry sound):

Leaves rustled in the breeze.

If the wind blows hard and makes a lot of noise, we sometimes describe it as howling:

The wind howled and the trees groaned.

When the wind blows more gently, making a long, soft sound, we may say, poetically, that it sighs:

I love to hear the wind sighing through the pines.

Staying with the weather theme, the sudden, loud noise of thunder is often described as a clap of thunder, while the low noise of thunder in the distance is a rumble of thunder:

She awoke to a loud clap of thunder.

We could hear the rumble of distant thunder.

Let’s turn now to water sounds. If you’re lucky enough to live near the sea, on a windy day when the sea is rough, you may hear the waves crashing on the shore. On a calmer day, you might hear the waves lapping the shore (=hitting it gently, making quiet sounds):

From her bed, she could hear the waves crashing on the shore.

He closed his eyes and listened to the waves lapping the shore.

Rivers and streams have their own sound words. We use the words burble, babble and gurgle to refer to the pleasant, low, bubbling sound of water moving along:

We walked by a babbling brook.

A nearby stream gurgled its way down the hill.

At the bottom of the garden is a burbling stream.

If there is a sudden, loud noise in a place that was quiet, we may say that the noise shatters or breaks the silence: A sharp burst of gunfire shattered the silence.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this round-up of outdoor sounds. In Part 3, I’ll look at noises that we hear inside our homes.


15 thoughts on “Rustling leaves and the howling wind (Sounds, Part 2)

    1. Pradip Dalal

      I greatly enjoyed reading the whole article. It took me away from the reality into the world of fantasy for a brief period of time. Thanks a lot🙏

  1. Waqas Ahmad

    I need your help . Which tense is this :
    The depreciation would be charged at rate of 10 % .
    Amount that would be earned from investment .
    Selling price that would be earned from free market .
    Please clarify to me ” would be +past participle” here

    1. Lee

      I hope it’ll be helpful. It’s either a part of a conditional sentence (“if something happened + something would happen”, speaking about the present with would be+ past participle means passive voice) or it is future in the past. “It will be charged” is the passive form for “They will charge it” (when it’s unimportant or unknown who “they” are) but if the sentence is in past tense, would is used instead of will. Also it can mean that something happened often in the past, but usually it’s not used with passive voice as it’s about a person doing something.


    Dear Kate, Lovely sounds and words. Mind if I say a verb I really missed? ,. To wuther. Perhaps not much used nowadays, but it was very much present in the passionate love and hate masterpiece novel Wuthering Heights by Emile Brontte. The book is filled with unusual outdoor ,” moorish” sounds. Maybe a whole article dedicated to that book?

    1. Julie

      Hello Kate,
      It’s very interesting. I can imagine subtle differences between those sounds.
      Thank you very much.

  3. Linh Tran

    Just beautiful! Thank you so much for lovely and poetic post. I can hear these all sounds in my heart and my soul when I can translate them in mind vividly and immediately without a dictionary. Love to read! Loves! ♥️

  4. Samson

    Thank you Kate for that lovely poetic article. It lapped the shores of my memories of a beautiful time . It was very refreshing to read that after a long day. Thanks again.

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