Howling, mewing and snorting (Animal sounds, Part A)

a Bernese Mountain Dog barking
Jill Lehmann Photography/Moment/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

A reader of this blog recently requested a post on animal sounds. When I looked into the subject, I was struck by the huge range of very specific words in the English language for the various noises that animals and birds make. Accordingly, this is a post in two parts, A and B. Here, in Part A, we start by considering words for the different noises that dogs make.

Bark, of course, is the word we usually use for a dog’s loud, rough noise. Smaller dogs may be said to yap when they make high-pitched sounds. (This word is usually used negatively.) When a dog makes a sudden, short, high sound because it is in pain, it yelps.

The dogs always bark when someone comes to the house.

Can someone stop that dog from yapping!

I accidentally stepped on her foot and she yelped.

If a dog makes a continuous, low sound that is rather threatening, it is said to growl. (Other animals growl too, for example bears and large cats.) Meanwhile, a sudden deep, rough sound from a dog, with the teeth exposed, is a snarl:

Never approach a dog when it’s growling.

It rushed at me, barking and snarling.

When a dog (or a wolf) makes a long, loud, high-pitched sound, it is said to howl: At night, we could hear wolves howling. We also talk about dogs whining when they make a long, high-pitched sound because they are unhappy or they want something: I can hear the neighbours’ dog whining when they go out.

That other very popular pet – the cat – has a more limited repertoire of noises. When it makes a quiet, continuous, soft sound it is said to purr and when it makes a high crying sound it (UK) miaows (US) meows, or mews:

She purred softly as I stroked her fur.

I could hear the cat miaowing in the kitchen.

The cat was peering through the window, mewing to be let in.

Another frequently domesticated animal – the horse – make a range of sounds though only two or three words describing them are commonly used. When a horse makes a long, loud, high call, we say it neighs or whinnies:

I could hear the horse in the field next to the house neighing

The grey horse whinnied to greet her.

When a horse makes the rather explosive sound of suddenly breathing out forcefully through its nose, it snorts:

The horse snorted and tossed its head.

That concludes Part A of this post. In Part B, we’ll consider the sounds made by a range of wild and farm animals.

13 thoughts on “Howling, mewing and snorting (Animal sounds, Part A)

  1. Rajeev kr Singh

    It really engendered curiosity to distinctly identify sounds of animals and understanding their mood. Great keep going.

    1. Svetlana Konstantinova

      It is fascinating to learn how speakers of different languages interprete the animals’ sounds. Animals make similar sounds all other the world, but not yet we hear those sounds in our own unique way. Incredible.

  2. Tago022

    This is a very insteristing subject because we listen to this noises every moment and is very import know how to say them. Thanks!

  3. PETER

    it got me a mess that is lot of kind of sounds from the animals,especially about bark ,yelp etc! iam so sorry about that,because my English is not real good in shortage !

  4. Rose

    I wanted to read this because I read part 2 first. Unfortunately, I think you have something against cats by calling them that the other popular pet. I thought it was common knowledge that more people own cats because they don’t need a walk in rain or snow and they typically don’t need as much time as dogs. And oh, and while I’m here, cats aren’t the ones constantly getting hit with breed bans (as if that’s how aggression works.)

    1. Divivid

      An honorable beginning but the author apparently has not much lived with cats. Cats purr when pleased, hiss when annoyed, growl when angry or defending food, snarl when threatened, yowl in heat, make astounding noises (for which there are no words that I know of) when fighting, and have a broad vocabulary of mews for when they’re hungry, want pets, do _not_ want pets, and otherwise telling about their day.

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