Growling, hissing and croaking: using animal noises to show human emotions

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

close-up photograph of a young girl holding a small green frog
Gins Wang / E+ / GettyImages

by Liz Walter

My last post looked at replacing the common verb ‘say’ with more interesting verbs that can convey information about a speaker’s emotions or personality. This post continues that theme, this time concentrating on verbs that are used for animal noises.

Several animal verbs are used to denote anger, for example roar for loud shouting or growl for low-pitched, rough speech. If someone snarls, they speak in an angry and rather frightening way. If their speech is quiet but sudden and threatening, we could say that they hiss like a snake. Note that these verbs, like all the others in this post, can be used as nouns too:

“Give me the money!” he roared.

He informed her with a growl that he was leaving.

“You’ll regret this!” she snarled.

“Don’t you dare say anything!” she instructed with an angry hiss.

If someone is nervous, they might squeak like a mouse, and if they have a dry throat because they are ill, thirsty, or scared they might croak like a frog:

“Do I really have to jump?” she squeaked.

“I need a doctor,” he croaked.

Bird noises often indicate happiness. For example, chirp and trill both describe a high, happy voice. If someone cackles like a hen, they laugh in a loud, unpleasant voice, while if they crow, they talk in a triumphant or boastful way:

“What beautiful flowers!” he chirped.

“I must introduce you to Mark,” she trilled.

I found the women cackling over a photograph of Nina in her gym gear.

“I won all my matches,” he crowed.

Staying with the bird theme, a person who clucks like a chicken shows a lot of sympathy or worry about someone or something – often rather too much – and someone who coos like a pigeon speaks in a soft, loving way:

“Make sure you get plenty of rest,” she clucked.

“We belong together,” he cooed.

A bossy person might bark or bark out their orders, while someone who brays like a donkey has a loud, unpleasant, and often arrogant voice:

She barked at us to get ready immediately.

We sat next to a group of braying young men.

Someone who is fed up or is being unfriendly might grunt like pig, while someone who is complaining – usually about something you think isn’t very important – might bleat like a lamb:

I understood his grunt to mean agreement.

“I’m hungry,” she bleated.

Finally, someone who speaks in a quiet, low voice, often because they are happy or satisfied or because they want to persuade someone to do something might be described as purring like a cat:

“You’re so kind,” she purred.

Does your language have any other animal noises that are used for humans?

14 thoughts on “Growling, hissing and croaking: using animal noises to show human emotions

  1. Aabha

    Its pretty useful, I like it .It improves the reader’s grammar like it improved mine . Please be sending these kinds of blogs to help students and teachers and others to improve their grammar ❣️. 👍✌️😁🤍💙

      1. Ksenia

        My warmest thanks. For unsurpassed studying and wonderful Website! You are an example and dream!!!!

    1. Nadia Romanova

      Thank you, it is an interesting article! In my language (Russian) we often use the same words (and refer to the same animals) when speaking of human emotions. With some differences, like to croak like a crow (frogs make other sound to us), and we don’t have many donkeys (I was shocked to hear their braying on YouTube), but we refer to horses when describing people laughing out too loudly without caring for others. And some more little changes, but in general very close.

      1. Daria khanova

        I’d also add that when people cluck it rather means that they are excited, fussed and nervous as if a worried hen running about the pen.

  2. Hello my name is Randall Coker. I Hope all is well with whomever it may be reading my comment. I personally enjoyed learning what the term Crow stands for concerning Speech. I’ve heard the term Crow like this. “Well I guess your your just going to need to eat Crow.” This statement goes along with anything that may or may not have been a negative impact in ones life. I’m Thankful for reading these terms today. Sincerely, Randall R. Coker

    To Crow- has many different alleged Truths or factual Truths, such as speaking in Triumph or in a Boastingly way.

    1. J M Barrie used the word “crow” a lot to describe Peter Pan’s words.

      By this point I had the sense that Peter Pan was a rather cocky young boy.

      And crow is rather tasteless or rotten especially with too many feathers rather than the meat.

  3. Elaine Marchena

    This is such a valuable post! I am an MLP (ESOL) teacher in elementary school, and am always looking for a way to expand my students’ vocabulary and word usage. Because these words a related to familiar animals, it’s easy to connect this new language to students” background knowledge and to also provide visual support. I definitely plan to make this the content of one of my lessons this year. Thank you so much! (Especially for providing examples after every few words!)

  4. roland especel

    Dear Ms Walter,
    Your most recent piece (Today) cannot be displayed .
    I do hope this can be fixed soon!
    Kind regards,
    R. E.

    1. Dear Roland,
      Thanks for your comment – well spotted! A website error caused one of Liz Walter’s posts to appear on the blog earlier than planned. It will be posted later, at the usual time. Apologies for the inconvenience.
      Best wishes,
      The Cambridge Dictionary team

  5. Njonjo Kahato

    This is a very helpful post especially with imagery. I am exasperated to note that few resources are tackling sounds, motions, homes… of animals.

  6. Denis

    In Russia, for instance, when a student is trying to answer a question the answer to which they do not know by hazarding a guess in a slow way of speaking in which the vowel sounds are made longer while using at the same time a lot of hmm & um sounds, we can say they’re mooing. 🙂

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