I have several related questions about the verbs used to describe the act of making a sound.

In English we often can use -ed to verbalize the noun corresponding to the sound itself, e.g. "it squealed" or "I squeal". It is easy to verbalize nouns in English and not so easy in French. Is there any systematic equivalent in French?

In English, especially in casual speech, for either inanimate or animate things, we often use "go" to quote something making a sound. For example, "when the microwave finishes, it will go 'ding'" or "It went bang" or "I went 'you ran the light' and he went 'No I didn't"!'"

We can also say it "made a sound". It "made a screech".

Of course for people we can say "He said" or "I say".

So we have many options of

  1. verbalize the noun itself
  2. Use go
  3. Use make
  4. use say
  5. And maybe others I didn't think of.

For French, in the case of people talking, we can say I suppose "Il dit". But can we say "Il dit" for inanimate things making sounds? Can we say, either for the animate or inanimate case, "Il fait"? "Il va"? Other verbs?


1 Answer 1


There does exist in french a process of production of verbs expressing actions of making a sound from the nouns of the sound. The process is not as freely productive as in English; you just add the ending "-er" to the noun and make it thus into a verb in the first group. However you can't do that freely; for instance an "écho" (echo) cannot yield "échoer", it is not defined, whereas in English "to echo" has been defined a long time ago.

  • cri → crier
  • soupir → soupirer
  • ronron → ronronner
  • glouglou → glouglouter

There is a freely productive means of creating verbs for sounds out of the noun of a sound, but instead of using a conversion (or zero derivation as it is also called), in French you use a verb with the noun, always the same, and that is the verb « faire ». It is somewhat the equivalent of the forms using « to go » in English; you can't always translate by "to go" though.

  • The fly went buzz louder than ever.
    (La mouche s'est mise à faire bzz plus fort que jamais.

  • The satchel went bang when it hit the ground.

  • (Le cartable a fait bang lorsqu'il a touché le sol.)

A few cases

  • tic-toc → La pendule faisait tic-toc.
  • boum → Le gong fit boum lorsque le soldat tomba dessus à la renverse.
    (The gong went bong when the soldier fell backwards on it.)
  • bang → La porte a fait bang en se fermant, ce qui a réveillé le chien.
  • bing → Une première claque fit bing sur sa cuisse droite, puis une autre suivit.

It must be sais though that this is not much used in print (bar in comic strips), except for "boum" (faire boum) and a substantial usage in print for this combination is of recent origin. This form might be considered at least in certain cases as predilected for children's ears; for instance whereas in a children book you'll be able to read "La pendule faisait tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc…" in a publication for mature individuals you are much more likely to read "On entendait le tic-toc de la pendule.".

A few verbs with various connotations are also usable in a more colourful language.

  • glapir, souffler, éructer, tonner, …


  • Anne tonna un oh de colère dans les oreilles à son frère et lui arracha le sac à main.

You can use « dire » in French, but the sound must be an accepted one. Now that "wow" has been made part of the habits of some of the French people (among the young mostly) you could say something like "Il a dit/fait wow, mais il ne pensais pas que ça en valait la peine.". If there is no word for the sound, as for instance for "irkshh", you can use several expressions: "faire le son « irkshh »", émettre un son comme « irkshh »", …
"Dire" is used neither for inanimate entities nor animals.

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