Top 25 Animal Sounds In French Explained By My French Speaking Daughter: Onomatopoeia

How do you describe in words what a dogs bark sounds like when writing or talking to another person? Easy, you either say “the dog barked” or you use what linguists refer to as an onomatopoeia- words whose purpose is to imitate a sound made by a person, an animal or a natural object such as ruff-ruff, boom, tic-toc, pow, pssst or bang bang. Let’s explore animal sounds in French, which don’t always sound the way you think they should.

Whether you’re learning French for fun or you’re simply curious, French onomatopoeias are a fun way to increase your vocabulary and sound more like a native speaker. They can even help you write more descriptively in French.

The funny thing is, onomatopoeias don’t always sound the same in different languages. 

For instance, the English onomatopoeia for a gun shooting is  “bang bang”.  The French onomatopoeia for a gunshot is “pan pan”. Weird right?

In English, when you hurt yourself, you usually say “ouch” but in French, you say “aïe!”, pronounced “I”.

And if you want to tell someone to shut up in French, you don’t say “Shhh”, you say “Chut”—pronounced SHUUTE. (The way you pronounce the U in Chut doesn’t exist in the English language).

Animal sounds are the same way. Although some animal sounds may be identical in different language like the sound a snake makes—ssss, other animal sounds in French sound downright puzzling to non-native French speakers.

Here are 25 examples of animal sounds in French (onomatopoeias)

There is a Pinterest shareable infographic about French sounds at the end of this article. 

FARM ANIMAL SOUNDS

1) Cow mooing— meuh

La vache meugle or the cow moos’

France is a country that produces over 1,000 different types of cheese, all made possible thanks to the cow (and sometimes goats). Needless to say, cows are important in French culture which might explain why there are so many expressions and proverbs concerning cows.

Here are a few of the more notable French expressions using the word cow (vache).

  • La vache ! Literally means, the cow. (La vache is an expression used when you are surprised like Holy cow , OMG, WOW, etc.).
  • Vachement! Literally means cowly. (Vacement is a common word used by adults and children alike, in front of adjectives to reinforce its meaning. Vachement bien—really good, vachement stupide—really stupid.
  • Parler français comme une vache espagnole: Literally means to speak French like a Spanish cow (which idiomatically means, your accent is so bad that you butcher the French language when you speak, or simply, you can’t speak French very well.)
  • Il pleut comme vache qui pisse !: Literally means, it’s raining like cows that piss.  (Idiomatically means it’s raining a lot. The closest equivalent expression in English is it’s raining cats and dogs.)

You might be interested in these other fun French idiomatic expressions regarding animals.

In this video, watch me, my daughter and my daughter’s cousin demonstrate some of the French sounds on this list.

2) Pig grunting ( oinking)— groin-groin

Un cochon grogne or a pig grunts for good reason. It’s a pig after all. Interestingly the verb grogne can also mean to growl as in growl like a dog or for humans to grumble dissatisfaction at something. And just like English, using the word pig in a sentence can have negative connotations.

Here are a few examples:

  • He’s a real pig: C’est un vrai cochon.
  • Eat like a pig.: Manger comme un cochon.
  • Really bad weather.: Il fait un temps de cochon.
  • Naughty or lewd (in this case lewd photos): Des photos cochonnes:

3) Donkey braying— hihan

L’âne brait or donkey brays sounds pretty similar. There’s no denying a donkeys bray can be quite loud. As in English, the bray can also be used to describe someone who speaks too loudly.

4) Horse neigh— hiiiii

Le cheval qui hennit or a horse neigh is a familiar sound however it’s very hard to describe. In French it’s onomatopoeia is simply hiiii

5) Sheep bleating— bêê

Le mouton bêle, the sheeps bleat in French sounds like bêê whereas in English it’s baa

6) Goat bleating— bêê

L’agneau bêle or goats bleat sounds just a sheep in French bêê.

7) Turkey— glou-glou

In French le dindon glougloute means the turkey gobbles and in French, the sound a turkey makes is glou-glou which also happens to be the same onomatopoeia used to describe the drinking sound—glug glug.

8) Baby chick whines— piou-piou

In French, a baby chick whine or Le poussin pépie sounds like lasers shooting —piou piou.

9) Rooster (cock) crowing— cocorico

Le coq chante

A rooster crowing sounds funny in any language and is even funnier to say in French. Try saying cocorico without laughing.

10) Chicken or hen clucking— cotcotcodet

La poule caquette and la poule glousse both mean a chicken clucking. The verb caqueter also mean to gossip or to yammer on about nothing while the verb glousser also means to giggle or chuckle. Yammering, gossiping and giggling is exactly what chickens sound like, don’t they?

FINE FEATHERED FRIENDS – BIRDS

11) Duck quacking —coin-coin

The verb cancaner used to describe a ducks quack —Le canard cancane, also means to gossip, similar to the verb caqueter used to describe a chickens cluck.

12) Crow cawing —crôa-crôa

le corbeau croasse

A crow cawing sounds like crôa-crôa in French while in English a crow simply goes caw caw.

13) A bird chirping— cui-cui

Chirp chirp goes the bird in English while in French it goes cui-cui. I actually think the French onomatopoeia sounds more accurate.

14) Owl hooting— ouh-ouh

Le hibou hue

An owls hoot in French (ouh-ouh) sounds a lot like it does in English (Hoo Hoo) except you don’t pronounce the H because the H sound doesn’t really exist in French. In Fact, it’s one of the sounds French people have a really hard time saying.

15) Pigeon cooing— rou rou

Le pigeon roucoule

Like a horse neighing, a pigeon cooing is a hard one to describe but the French, I think, have nailed the sound of a pigeon. it’s rou-rou.

16) Goose honking —ca car

In English, the sound a goose makes is referred to as honking and it sounds like honk honk? I didn’t even know that. In French, a goose honking, l’oie cacarde, sounds like ca car.

HOUSE PETS

17) Cat mewing— miaou – miau

A cat’s meow in French sounds pretty similar to the way it sounds in English—miaou. However, the French sound for a cat purring is ron ron which when compared to pur pur in English is drastically different.

18) Dog barking— ouah ouah or ouaf ouaf

Le chien aboie or le chien jappe.

The verbs aboyer and japper, used in the phrase above, both mean to bark in French and are used interchangeably however when you say le chien jappe, it implies that the dog has a much more high pitched bark like a smaller dog and le chien aboie implies that the dog might have a more deep bark but not always.

Dogs are popular in France. People bring them everywhere including in restaurants, grocery stores, on the tram and trains too. There are also many expressions in the French language that refer to dogs.

Here are a few fun expressions using the French word aboyer—to bark.

  • To be sick as a dog: (être malade comme un chien)
  • To be like cats and dogs in French means to fight like cats and dogs: (etre comme chien et chat)
  • Between a dog and a wolf (entre chien et loup) refers to dusk or twilight but can also mean witching hour. The origins have something to do with the fact that at dusk or twilight, it’s hard to tell the difference between a dog and a wolf. OOOH, SO SCARY!

WILD ANIMALS

19) Lion roaring— raoh

The French onomatopoeia for a lion’s roar or le rugissement d’un lion is roah. The verb rugir which literally means to roar can also be used in other expressions not involving a lion.

For example

  • Roar with anger: (Rugir de colère)
  • We heard the wind roar: On entendait rugir le vent.

20) Wolf howling— ooouh

A wolf that howls or un loup qui hurle sounds almost identical in French as it does in English.

21) Snake hissing— ssss ssss

Le serpent siffle literally means the snake whistles but is used to describe a snakes hiss. Surprise, surprise, a hissing snake in French sounds just like it does in English —sssss.

OTHER CRITTERS

22) Mouse squeaking— piit piit

I’m torn between eek eeek, the English onomatopoeia for a mouse sound and piit-piit, the French mouse sound. Which one sounds more like an actual mouse to you?

23) Cigada chirp— crii crii crii

Cicada’s are everywhere in France, especially in the South of France. In French, a cicada chirp or La cigale craquette sounds like this—crii crii crii.

24) Bee droning— bzzz

No surprise, L’abeille bourdonne, the bee droning, sounds the same in French as it does in English, bzzz.

25) Frog croaking —coac –croac

For better or worse, the French are known for eating frogs, so it makes sense that the written word for a frog croaking in French is spot on—coac-coac!  Ribbit just doesn’t make sense to me.

Onomatopoeia: French animal sounds video and examples

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).