Onomatopoeia is a fancy grammar term for words that sound like what they represent. One class of onomatopoeia contains words like meow and bang.
Then, there are others that function as sound interjections and may or may not be found in the dictionary: ah/aah/aw or mmm/hmm/hmph.
These sound words give writers a particularly hard time, especially in the case of ah, aw, and the like because they all represent essentially the same sound. However, each one carries a slightly different inflection that changes the meaning.
Ah is usually used to express a wide variety of meaning, including delight, relief, regret, contempt, sudden realization, or pain. It’s a more general term and can be used instead of aah, ahh, or aha. But because it is so general, it often fails to clearly express what you’re trying to say.
When you’re using such a general term, context is everything.
This could indicate an exclamation of surprise; imagine someone jumping out at you from behind a door. Aaaah!
The number of A’s simply indicates how drawn out the sound is, ah for short and sharp and aaaah for a prolonged scream.
Or it could be an exclamation of sudden understanding. You just found the solution to a difficult problem or solved a mystery.
This one generally indicates relief: settling down in your recliner after a hard day at work or dipping your feet in a cool creek after a long hike.
Depending on how much of a drawn-out sigh you want to convey, you could tack on one or more Hs at the end. Ahhhhh!
Most of us are familiar with how to use aha. Depending on the context, it can indicate surprise, triumph, or derision. It can mean anything from Eureka! to Gotcha!
Argh is actually more of a growl than an ah sound, but it still fits somewhat into this category. It expresses surprise or frustration.
Like ah, aw can be used for a variety of purposes, so you’ll have to indicate which one you want by making the context clear (unless you’re going for intentional ambiguity). Aw can indicate disappointment, gentle entreaty, mock sympathy, or cooing over something adorable.
Tacking multiple Ws on the end of the word draws out the sound and usually indicates adoration over something cute, like a child or an animal.
Awwww! Look at that cute puppy!
Awe isn’t actually an onomatopoeia interjection like the rest of the words on this list. But I added it here because it’s often confused with them.
Awe can be either a noun meaning dread, veneration, or wonder or a verb meaning to inspire dread, veneration, or wonder.
There are no hard rules, so though these guidelines can help you when choosing which spelling you want to give to a particular sound, you are the author. And the choice is ultimately yours.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.