Auditory Description

What’s that you hear, carried upon the wind? Why, it’s one of the five sensory descriptions: the auditory description. An auditory description is any description concerned with how something sounds. This might sound straightforward, but there are many kinds of auditory descriptions, as well as tricks with how to identify them and how to use them. 

Auditory Description Auditory Description

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Table of contents

    Definition and Purpose of Auditory Description

    An auditory description, which describes how something sounds, is used to engage the reader’s memories and emotions. Like with any of the five modes of sensory description, the auditory description is just one way to thus engage the reader.

    Auditory descriptions have the distinction of describing dialogue. How someone says something is often just as or more important than what someone says, and it is often the job of the auditory description to get the “how” across. Additionally, auditory descriptions can describe things at various distances.

    Auditory description Sense of room StudySmarterFig. 1 - A sense of what's inside.

    When you are in a room, you can only objectively see, touch, and taste what is in that room. You might be able to smell something close by. However, you can hear construction work, sirens, and even music and voices far, far away from where you are. The auditory description controls how these things are perceived in the written world.

    How to Identify an Auditory Description

    There are some truly unique aspects to audio that makes the auditory description often more technical than other sensory descriptions. Here is why, and how you can keep it all straight in your head.

    Auditory descriptions of sounds

    Although it might not seem like it, sounds are concrete nouns.

    Concrete nouns are forms of matter and energy.

    Audio is kinetic mechanical energy. Here are auditory descriptions of sounds.

    The music was beautiful.

    His voice was piercing.

    I hear the soft patter of footsteps.

    In these examples, “music,” “voice,” and “footsteps” are sound words. They are not material things. In the case of someone who is deaf, the subject changes entirely. For example, “voice” would not be the subject at all, but rather the mouth of the person being visually read.

    Many sensory descriptions describe forms of matter. You see the drummer. You feel the guitar strings against your fingers. You smell the sweat. You taste the sweat. But you hear the music.

    Auditory description Sound of music StudySmarterFig. 2 - Do you hear what I hear?

    Auditory descriptions thus differ from the other forms of sensory description because instead of describing forms of matter, they describe energy (in the form of sound waves), action nouns such as a "shout," or verbs.

    Auditory descriptions of verbs and gerunds

    Speaking of actions, the subject of an auditory description can be a verb or a gerund.

    A verb is an action word.

    A gerund is a verb used as a noun. They are actions that end in “-ing” and function as nouns.

    Here are examples of auditory descriptions with verbs:

    Her cellphone rang melodiously.

    The Queen boomed ominously.

    The dice rattled dramatically in the tray.

    To identify these descriptions, let's look at adverbs.

    Adverbs describe verbs and often end in “-ly.”

    If the verb is a sound verb, and there is an adverb to describe it, you have identified an auditory description. Here are some examples of auditory descriptions of gerunds:

    The soft clanging of pots and pans reminded me of my youth.

    I heard the light jingling of sleigh bells.

    The loud roaring of Cerberus deafened the gnolls.

    For these, you are looking for -ing nouns with some kind of descriptor, such an adjective or a phrase that works like an adjective. Gerunds and their descriptors are frequently preceded by “the.”

    When identifying any kind of description, the technical terms don’t matter that much. In other words, don’t sweat it trying to figure out if something is in fact an “adverbial phrase.” It might help, but it might not. At the end of the day, something is not a description based on a set of grammatical or syntactic rules. It is a description if something is being described. These are the only two elements required in a description. Anecdotes are a kind of description, and they are not dependent on grammar or syntax in any way! As you study, delve only as deep as you think it is beneficial.

    Objective Auditory Description with Examples

    Objective auditory description involves literal hearing. It is a description of somebody physically hearing something, and how that sounds.

    His voice was piercing.

    Her cellphone rang melodiously.

    I heard the light jingling of sleigh bells.

    All of these examples, which we have seen before of course, try to describe sound without resorting to opinion. That said, “objective” auditory descriptions are the most dubiously “objective” of the sensory descriptions. This is because sounds are forms of energy. Although sound can be objectively measured using decibels, for instance, most auditory descriptions are modestly objective descriptions.

    A modestly objective description creates a casually accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind.

    A modestly objective description is intended to be simple. It is lightly interpretable. On the other hand, a subjective auditory description is explicitly an opinion. The intent of a subjective description is to provide a unique perspective on something.

    Subjective Auditory Description with Examples

    A subjective auditory description is opinionated. It is more interpretable than an objective auditory description. This example presents a strong perspective, which is indicative of a subjective description:

    Her voice was horribly piercing, such that I couldn’t stand it.

    Notice the context clues that help us identify this description as subjective.

    Context clues occupy the space around the target description. They contextualize the place, time, and reason for the description.

    “Such that I couldn’t stand it” gives a reason for the descriptor “horribly piercing,” which is itself a strong phrase. The stronger the phrase, the more likely it is to be subjective.

    Don’t stop there, though. Imagine that this was the passage:

    The banshee opened her mouth and began to wail. Her voice was horribly piercing, such that I couldn’t stand it.

    The context is expanded here to include a mythological being, a banshee, whose voice is objectively unbearable. The passage is no longer subjective because it is no longer intended to convey a perspective; it is intended to convey the properties of a banshee’s wail.

    The point is, to study the passage closely to know whether an auditory description is subjective or objective!

    If a description is subjective, then the author, narrator, or character will be providing their unique perspective on a subject. Their perspective is “unique” because someone with a different opinion might describe that same subject very differently. Objective descriptions are not ripe for argument, unlike subjective ones. At the end of the day, though, there is no perfect scientific method to understanding a writer’s intent, or whether something is objective or subjective, so you will just have to try your best.

    Figurative Auditory Description with Examples

    A figurative auditory description describes how something sounds by comparing it to something else. Simile and metaphor are often employed for these descriptions.

    Simile: The motorbike starting up sounded like an erupting volcano.

    Metaphor: Every lie he spoke was another claw against the chalkboard.

    These descriptions involve an actual sound, but they are described in reference to another sound.


    Recall our simplified definition of a description. It is a description if something is being described. Fundamentally, onomatopoeia is an auditory description, because something that makes a sound is described using phonetic mimicry. Phonetic mimicry is translating a dog's bark to "woof" because that is what it approximately sounds like using phonemes. "Woof" is an example of onomatopoeia.

    Other examples of onomatopoeia are words like “moo,” “bang,” and “meow,” all of which also phonetically mimic a sound. They will sometimes be italicized.

    The skates made a sound like skktch skktch on the ice.

    Onomatopoeias are so useful and so ubiquitous that they can themselves be nouns and verbs that can in turn be further described.

    The cow gave a loud moo.

    Onomatopoeias are easily recognizable, and one of the most unique forms of sensory description that a writer has in their arsenal.

    Auditory description Dog barking StudySmarterFig. 3 - Woof woof!

    Auditory - Key Takeaways

    • Whereas other sensory descriptions often refer to forms of matter, auditory descriptions often refer to sound, which is a form of energy.
    • If a concrete noun is a form of matter, the description of it is probably something besides an auditory description.
    • Auditory descriptions often refer to actions and movements. Look for verbs, gerunds, and action nouns.
    • There are objective, subjective, and figurative auditory descriptions.
    • Onomatopoeia is is a highly unique auditory description. Something that makes a sound is described using phonetic mimicry.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Auditory Description

    What is auditory description?

    An auditory description, which describes how something sounds, is used to engage the reader’s memories and emotions.

    What is an example of an auditory description?

    His voice was piercing.

    How do you write sounds in writing?

    This is called onomatopoeia. To write an onomatopoeia, you describe a sound using phonetic mimicry. This is like "woof" or "moo."

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