Noises and Sounds in German – An Overview

Written By: Emanuel Updated: October 7, 2022

german-words-for-noiseHello everyone,

and welcome to our German word of the Day.

It’s been a while since we’ve had our last style special so I figured it’s time for another one. No, this is not about beauty and fashion. I do that too, but on my  other blog.

Here, a style special is  whirlwind of verbs. Lots of verbs and they are all about the same stuff. Just different styles.  Not all of the verbs are exactly the definition of useful. In fact most of them aren’t. But they’re not fancy science vocab either and I think it’s good to take a glimpse into the less traveled fields of a vocabulary every now and then because it just gives a more complete picture of the language.
And our picture today we’ll be painted of sounds because we’ll look at verbs for


Nature is full of noises. And humans have always tried to capture that in language. Buzz, hum, squeak, sizzle, hiss… the list of verbs for sounds is sheer endless. Some, like hiss or screech really just stand for the sound while others like to crack have taken on real meanings over time.
Today we’ll have a look at German words for noises. Not animal noises, just those noises that are around us every day. And who knows… maybe the way German captures those gives us new insights about the German language itself. Well … probably not.
Frankly, those style specials are really  a waste of time. Kind of like my midriff… that is also a waist of time… … …
No one is laughing. I expected that. Gives me a chance to hear the serene humming of my fridge.

Deep Noises

We’ll start with deep noises and words that imitate deep noises contain, big shock, a “deep” vowel… like “u” or “o”.
Our first example is brummen. Brummen is a something between to hum and to growl… it has a little more energy and is a little more distorted than humming but it is by far not as aggressive and “gargling  as growl. It works for machines as well as for people.

  • Das Brummen von meinem Kühlschrank beruhigt mich.
  • The humming of my fridge relaxes me.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Gute Arbeit” brummte der alte Magier.
  • “Good work”the old mage murmured.
    (brummen puts more focus on the deep momotone voice)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Brumm brumm is also what kids do to imitate cars and other engines.  And some animals brummen, too. If I had to name one, then it would be a bear… not an aggressive bear, just a bear doin’ bear things, feeling good.
“But bears are in fact incredibly quiet and wouldn’t just randomly bru…”
Oh whatever. I don’t care.
Similar to brummen is summen which is a little higher, has less energy and a not growling. Summen is to hum in sense of  a melody with your lips closed and it is also what the neon light bulb does. And it is THE noise for bees. There is even a  children’s song that uses it in the chorus… here’s that really great Kathy Perry version I found.

I don’t know if I like that though. Children’s song sung by professionals. Kind of puts a lot of pressure on all the young mothers out there who want to sing to their kids themselves and who have o singing exper… but I digress.
Similar to summen is surren (buzz, whir). In fact, the only difference to me that surren has less base. Surren is for example the sound a fishing line makes when you throw it out. Or the noise of a little pocket fan or an electric shaver. I like pocket fans by the way. With them, I can  get a cheer whenever I need one… … badumm tish.
No laughter. There it is again… mein summender Kühlschrank. So entspannend.
Now,  brummen , summen and surren are all kind of monotone.
The next one, rumpeln, is not.Rumpeln  is the sound I’m hearing when the people living above me are moving their furniture around… again. They do that a lot. Or they’re bowling up there or running around playing tag. I don’t know. But all these would sound like rumpeln. I think the best translation is to rumble. It doesn’t always work but it definitely fits for mechanical devices like an engine or a washing machine.

  • Meine Waschmaschine rumpelt beim Schleudern.
  • My washer is rumbling when spin-drying.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

The next two verbs are donnern and grollen. You probably recognize donnern from Donnerstag and it is the German word for  thunder.

  • Tage des Donners
  • Days of thunder.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Besides the actual weather-thunder you can also use it for a really, really big truck passing by or for really loud applause (donnernder Applaus).  Grollen is also used for the weather-thunder but it is more of a remote; this rumbling in the distance that tells us we should go home. Grollen is also used for people by the way…not for the way they talk but for the way they feel. This internal being angry. Here are the first few lines of a poem by Heinrich Heine… can you guess what it means?

Ich grolle nicht, und wenn das Herz auch bricht,
Ewig verlornes Lieb! ich grolle nicht.
(find the full poem here)

All right. Two more in the section of deep noises. One has to do with water… blubbern. Blubbern, somehow related to bubble, is the noise of a whirl pool, gas in a swamp or gas in the bath tub. Oh and since we’re at it, there is also the word gluckern. This is commonly used to depict the noise water makes when it runs out of something or into some sort of funel… from the bath tub into the tube for instance or from a beer bottle into a glass. Gluck gluck is also the imitation of someone drinking. And of someone drinking.

  • “Was ist denn mit Thomas? Der sieht heute echt krank aus.”
    “Oh kein Mitleid…. Gluck gluck gluck, gestern abend”
    “Ah verstehe.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

All right. The last word in the deep category is also the brightest”: dröhnen. Dröhnen is related to English to drone but it is much louder than that. I cannot imagine dröhnen ever to be pleasant. It’s hard to describe what exactly it is.You can experience it by standing right next to a church bells. Or a jet engine. Or a really really big fan. I like really big fans bec… but we already had that joke did we. Time to move on… to the medium noises.

Medium Noises

The most important word in context of  noises is certainly this one: rauschen. Why makes it so special? Well there are many reasons. First of, das Rauschen is in fact the technical term in  physics and acoust… HEY wake up… just because I said physics doesn’t mean that you can go to sleep, okay.

  • Die Aufnahme ist total verrauscht.
  • The recording is full of noise.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And it is not only a technical term.  It is the base of the word das Geräusch which actually is THE word for noise, no matter how. A click is a Geräusch, a hissing in a  Geräusch and a burp is a Geräusch.
The word noise is related to nausea and it originally meant something like disturbance or annoyance. Rauschen is just an imitation of one noise, the shhhhh-sound to be precise. The best example for rauschen  is water

  • Ich liebe das Rauschen des Meeres.
  • I love the sound of the sea.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Dictionaries suggest hissing or swoosh as translations but hissing is WAY to high and swoosh … I don’t know, to me  it sounds too cool for the ocean.

  • the swooshing of the waves.

Rauschen really captures the sea for me… the slow build up when the waves come, then they break and wash ashore, and then the water pulls back… rauschen… but anyway… besides Geräusch, there is another word that comes from rauschender Rausch. And that is basically a an ecstasy, a high… or an intoxication. You’d drink a lot of Absinth and you get “noise” in your brain. Rausch is pretty strong though. You wouldn’t use it for just being a little drunk or a little high. It is something bigger.

  • Heroine, Crack, LSD, usw… das ist alles Rauschgift. (lit: ecstasy poison )
  • Heroien crack, LSD etc… all those are drugs.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But it can also be used outside of the context of drugs… what matters is the feeling.

  • Das Musical war sooooo gut.. ich bin ganz berauscht.
  • The musical was soooo good…. I am virtually intoxicated.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

All right.
‘The next word is rascheln and rascheln is kind of a disrupted, insteady rauschen.  The number one thing that raschelt is …  leaves. Especially dry leaves.

  • Das bunte Herbstlaub raschelt.
  • The colorful autumn leaves are rustling.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

You can also do it with your newspaper, certain kinds of fabric or a plastic bag. To rustle is a pretty good translation but I kinda like rascheln better. Rustle just sounds too dry to me a lot of times.
A dry variation of rascheln is rasseln which is pretty much what the English rattle stands for… the instrument rattle is called Rassel for example.
Now, from the rustling leaves let’s get right to the trees… or better: the wood. The number one word to imitate what wood does is knarren. Walking on wooden floor, opening an old wooden door, sitting down on an old wooden chair…  all that will probably knarren.  English says creak or squeak for that, which is probably the better imitation of the actual sound in many cases.

  • Die Tür knarrt.
  • The door is creaking.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

I think knarren puts a little more emphasis on the weight and hardness of wood so that’s why it sounds a little deeper. One thing I really don’t understand though is why the word Knarre is a slang term for gun. Kids say peng or bum to imitate gunshots and “knarr” just doesn’t sound like one at all. So that slang term is pretty fail.
All right.
There’s one more word in teh medium section that is reserved for water. I’m talking about  plätschern. Plätschern comes from platschen and a platschen is a single splash. Like when you let a stone drop into a river. I like platschen better than to splash because it captures the initial hard onset and only then brings in the water , and splash again sounds a little too cool. But that’s just my opinion. Plätschern is basically a repeated platschen-sound.  Like a little creek running over stones. It’s also used for events sometimes, when nothing really is happening.

  • In der Mitte der Staffel plätschern die Episoden so vor sich hin.
  • In mid season the episodes kind of just float by.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Oh and I almost forgot about planschen. Planschen isn’t really a noise but it closely related to platschen and plätschern as it quite literally means to play in water. It’s what kids want to do in summer. No swimming, not playing water ball, just being in the water enjoying yourself. That is planschen and these little kiddie pools that you can blow up are called Planschbecken.

  • Achtung: Dieser Brunnen is kein Hundeplanschbecken!
  • Attention: this fountain is not a doggie pool!
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Now let’s move on to the high noises.

High Noises

The low noises used u and o, the medium ones had a in them, and of course the high ones are going to ha.. hold on… brutzeln, knuspern?… A “u”? Hmm… that’s odd.
Well, actually not really… the crucial part in these is the s in the middle.That’s what makes them sound “hiss”-y and high. Brutzeln is the noise of a steak in the pan… frizzle or sizzle. The u just adds some sort of weight to it. For oil alone for instance, I would say britzeln but while brutzeln is pretty much limited to frying things britzeln is also used for electricity

  • Mein Netzteil britzelt.
  • My power supply is sizzling (is that idiomatic??)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Oh and britzeln is also used for a sensation. Have you ever put a fizzy tablet or fizzy powder in your tongue… that feeling is britzeln.
The other word we had was knuspern and that one is super common because it is German for  crunch and crisp.. in context of food.

  • Das Brot ist schön knusprig.
  • The bred has a nice “crunshyness” (sorry Americans if you don’t know what I am talking about ;)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

I can tell you, marketing loooooooves the word knuspern. It sounds super positive and tasty and so they use it for everything remotely crunchy. And they come up with the weirdest compounds and combinations… Knuspermüsli, Knusperkeks, Knusperwunder, Knusperstar, knusperlecker, schokoknusprig …

  • Einmal aufgebacken, schmeckt unser Mini- Baguette stundenlang knusperfrisch. (source)
  • Once heated up/crisped up our mini baguette tastes crunchy fresh for hours. (literal)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

This is the official text on their webpage, mind you. There is actually a cookie bar called Knuspertraum … see for yourself here.  The dumbest word of them all is knusperweichcrispy-tender. Come on! What does that even mean? But I digress. Back to the noises.
The next one is knistern. Possible translations are crackle, creak and sizzle which seems like kind of a range. But where they all sort of come together is a camp fire. And that’s a good example for knistern is… the sound of fire burning dry, small twigs. Plastic bags and thin paper or tin foil also knistern but fire is where the word came from. And since fire is often associated with passion it is not surprising that people use knistern  also in context of sexual tension between people.

  • Zwischen Maria und dir hat es heute ganz schön geknistert, oder?
  • There was quiet something going on between you and Maria, wasn’t there?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

The next word, knirschen, looks quite similar to knistern, but the origin is totally different. Knirschen is the sound you get if you grind two hard objects against each other… like rocks, or your teeth.

  • Ich knirsche mit den Zähnen.
  • I grind my teeth.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

I really like the word knirschen. To me, it just perfectly captures what it stands for… not only the sound but the feel. Knirrsch. Just sounds like two stones.
I also like the next group of verbs. Those all have to do with blowing and they also capture what they stand for pretty nicely… zischen, pfeifen and fiepen.
Zischen is the most generic. Snakes do it, a hole is a tire can do it, a coke does it when you open it. Zischen is basically a high rauschen. Air getting out through a small opening pretty fast.
Zischen is also be used for a way of talking

  • “Sei ruhig,” zischte der alte Magier seinen Lehrling an.
  • “Be quiet,” the old mage hissed at his apprentice.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Pfeifen has less hissing and much more tonal components instead. The best translation is to whistle.

  • Ich pfeife ein Lied.
  • I am whistling a song.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But also a hole in your bike tire, your lung after a sprint or the wind can pfeifen… what matters is that it’s a mix of hissing and a tone.
The last one of the three, fiepen, is kind of a special pfeifen. It has less force and is kind of unstable. It’s what dogs do it when they want something or they are impatiently waiting for their owner in front of the store.
All right.
Last but not least, there is quietschen. It used to be a variation of quieken which is an imitation of the noise of pigs. But soon people generalized quietschen to all kind of  squeaky noises… a metal hinge can quietschen, tires on a street can quietschen and chalk on a chalk board REALLY can quietschen. And then there is of course the Quietscheentchen… a word that looks like a car accident, but it actually stands for something rather cute. Ernie of the German version of Muppet show dedicated a whole song to that little thing, and we get also a nice reminder of what planschen is.

And that’s it for the high noises. Only one group missing…

Plucky Noises

All the noises we’ve had so far were long. Brummen, pfeifen, plätschern. All those can go on for hours. But there’s a group which is short by nature. Knock, bang, pow, blam. This kind of stuff. At the deep end we have  klopfen and pochen. Klopfen is quite literally to knock, so it stands for rather deep sounds and just like the English version it has come to be a real verb.

  • Ich klopfe an die Tür.
  • I knock on the door.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Pochen is also deep but it sounds a little more dull or hollow, if that makes sense. If your neighbor is hammering a nail into the wall, that would be a pochen in your room.
In the medium range there a few more words. First of, there is knallen which is basically a loud explosive sound. An explosion does it, a gunshot does it, a bursting balloon does it and girlfriends do it with the door when you make the mistake to voice concern about Winterspeck. Knallen is also used in context of arguments getting violent, especially for a bitch slap, and the noun der Knall (the bang, the explosion sound) can also be used in sense of crazy.

  • Wenn du das noch einmal machst, dann knallts, aber gewältig.
  • If you do that again, you’ll be in trouble. Serious trouble.
    (no idea if that is a good translation, the German sentence could also be used by German parents in sense of “We’ll be really really angry)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • “Maria hat ihrem Chef vor allen Kollegen eine geknallt.
    “Die hat einen Knall.”
  • “Maria bitch slapped her boss in front of the whole team.”
    “She’s crazy.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

The next word is knacken which pretty much means to crack. It was inspired by breaking wood and today it can also be used for a safe or a code.

  • Ich habe den Code geknackt.
  • I cracked the code.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Klacken sounds more like mechanics shifting into place. Closing your a micro oven is a klacken, your toaster shooting up your toast or the sound of flipping open a lighter. In the medium range there’s also platschen which was the sound of an object hitting water, but we already had that.
Technically, also klappen belongs to that group but klappen has become so useful that it deserved it’s own post (I’ll add a link below).
All right.
For high plucky noises there’s mainly one word: klicken. It’s pretty much like the English version. A mouse, a ball pen, a camera shutter… all those klicken. And just like English to click, the German word is used in context of computers.

  • Klicke hier nicht, wenn du nicht keinen 24-Monatsvertrag abschließen willst.
  • Uhm… what?
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

There’s one cool word with klicken that you probably haven’t heard of and that is Klickibunti. It’s klicken combined with bunt (colorful) and then made childish with the “i”-endings. Klickibunti is a term real programmers use to refer to stuff like Word or  Wordpress or Flash but also the windows like versions of Linux. All those customer programs basically, where you don’t need to code anything but just click nice colorful  buttons.And of course the word isn’t supposed to be a compliment. And although most people do use Klickibunti applications, the word has made it’s way out of the nerd corner and you can find quite some examples for it being used in journalistic contexts.

  • Zukunft der Zeitungs-App: Klickibunti oder Klartext.
  • The future of newspaper apps: play- and colorful or straight forward.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Klickibunti zum eigenen Virus.
  • Your own virus just by clicking and dragging.
    (title of a review of a virus-building software that doesn’t need you to code anything)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And this concludes our little look at German words for sounds. Is the word Klickibunti useful? Nah, most likely not. But as I said in the beginning, I think it’s good to just browse around from time to time and see what the language has to offer aside. Kind of like sneaking away from the official guided tour only to find this really weird bar. And so I hope it was a little fun and you learned at least some interesting words. Of course those were not all he words for sounds and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important ones. So if you have one that is missing, just leave it in the comments. And of course if you have any questions or suggestions you can leave a comment, too. This was our style special on noise. I hope you liked it and see you next time.
And to kind of bring it full circle, here’s the song “Mein Freund Michael”. It’s from Die Ärzte, one of the most successful, most talented and most longest being aroundest… uhm… punk bands ever. The song is dedicated to Michael Schuhmacher who is one of the most famous formula 1 pilots ever, and the first word of today, brummen, is an integral part of it.
Why do they do this song? I have no idea. Maybe they don’t really know themselves :)

Further reading:

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