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Auditory Imagery

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Auditory Imagery

The great clock strikes twelve, the chimes cutting through the noisy hustle and bustle of the city. The incessant honks of impatient drivers fill my ears whilst the faint melody from the guitar of a street busker sounds in the distance.

And... back to reality. This description really helps to transport you to a busy city, full of noisy objects and people doesn't it? Can you imagine all the sounds in your head? If so, this is something we call 'imagery', more specifically 'auditory imagery' (i.e. imagery that we 'hear').

What Is Imagery?

So what exactly is imagery in English Language and English Literature?

Imagery is a literary device (i.e. a writing technique) that uses descriptive language to create a mental image of a place, idea, or experience. It appeals to the reader's senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell).

'The tall trees loomed over me, lightly swaying in the breeze. I could hear a rabbit scurry across the forest floor and feel the crack of the twigs underneath my feet.'

In this example, there is plenty of descriptive language that helps to create a mental image of a forest. The extract appeals to the sense of sight ('tall trees loomed'), the sense of touch ('crack of the twigs underneath my feet'), and the sense of sound ('hear a rabbit scurry').

Think of imagery as a tool used by writers to fully engage the reader in the story. It can evoke certain feelings or emotions. make us sympathise with a character, or let us experience the world from a character's point of view.

Our mental image in our head is completely unique to us. Other people may imagine the same people, objects, ideas etc. but how their mental image of these will differ from person to person. The vividness and detail of this mental imagery will also differ; some people may experience rich, vivid images whilst others experience duller, less detailed images.

The different types of imagery

There are five different types of imagery, each describing the sense that the imagery is appealing to. These are:

  • Visual imagery (what we 'see' in our mental image)

  • Auditory imagery (what we 'hear' in our mental image)

  • Tactile imagery (what we 'touch' or 'feel' in our mental image)

  • Gustatory imagery (what we 'taste' in our mental image)

  • Olfactory imagery (what we 'smell' in our mental image)

A writer can use multiple types of imagery across the full text to fully engage the reader and create a full, sensory experience.

In this article, we will discuss auditory imagery, i.e. what we 'hear'.

Auditory Imagery Definition

So what exactly is auditory imagery?

Auditory imagery is the use of descriptive language to create imagery that appeals to our sense of hearing. In other words, it refers to what we 'hear' in our mental image.

Auditory Imagery Effect

Descriptive language can create a mental image of sounds, even when there is no external stimulus (i.e. no 'real-life sound'). This could be music, voices, or general noises that we hear.

Imagine the following sounds: the chirping of birds, glass shattering onto the floor, waves crashing onto the shore, the bark of a dog, complete silence, and your friend calling your name.

Can you hear them in your mind? If so, that is auditory imagery!

Auditory Imagery Examples

Now that we know what auditory imagery is, let's take a look at some examples in literature, poems, and everyday life.

Auditory imagery in literature

Writers can use auditory imagery to transport the reader to the setting of their story. This may be a description of a character's voice, the movement of objects in the room, the sounds of nature, and so much more.

Let's look at an example from one of Shakespeare's famous plays called 'Macbeth'. In this scene, there is a persistent knocking at the door and the porter imagines what it would be like to answer the door in hell. He feels that he would be very busy due to all of the bad people in the world (with the main character 'Macbeth' being one of them!).

“Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of

hell-gate, he should have old turning the key. Knock

Knock, knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of

Belzebub?

- Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Act-II, Scene-III, Lines 1-8

The 'knock knock' sounds are examples of onomatopoeia and are associated with the sound of someone hitting a door (onomatopoeia refers to words that imitate the sound that it describes e.g. 'bang' or 'boom'). This helps to create auditory imagery as the reader hears the knocking in a similar way to the character.

Auditory imagery, image of a door knocker, StudySmarterCan you hear someone knocking at the door? - Pixabay

Auditory Imagery In Poetry

Poetry is a type of literature that often appeals to the senses, using plenty of creative and descriptive language to create rich imagery.

Take a look at the following extract taken from the poem 'The Sound of the Sea' by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,And round the pebbly beaches far and wideI heard the first wave of the rising tideRush onward with uninterrupted sweep;A voice out of the silence of the deep,A sound mysteriously multipliedAs of a cataract from the mountain’s side,Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.

In this example, the poet uses descriptive language to create an auditory image of the sound of the sea. We can imagine the ocean 'waking up', a sweeping sound cutting through the silence and getting louder and louder.

The writer uses figurative language in his poem to bring the ocean to life. This is language that goes beyond the literal meaning to express something deeper. In this extract, we see a type of figurative language called 'personification' (personification refers to giving human characteristics to something which isn't human). The sound of the ocean is described as 'a voice out of the silence of the deep' which gives the ocean the human quality of a 'voice'. The sound of the wind is also described as a 'roar', something that we often associate with a fierce lion! This language creates auditory imagery and helps us to imagine the sounds in a more vivid and creative way.

Auditory imagery, Image of the sea, StudySmarterCan you hear the sea? - Pixabay

Auditory imagery in everyday life

Auditory imagery isn't just used in literature and poems. We may also find ourselves using auditory imagery in everyday situations such as describing how beautiful some music is, the horrible sound of a screaming child on a plane, the sound of snoring keeping you awake at night, and so on.

'He snored so loudly, it sounded like there was a steam train coming into the station!'

In this example, auditory imagery is created using the adjective 'loudly', which describes the volume of the sound. The simile 'it sounded like a steam train' helps us imagine the sound of the snore by comparing it to something else (a simile compares one thing to another to compare similar qualities). This exaggeration creates a more vivid image of the sound as it emphasises the loudness.

How Do We Create Auditory Imagery?

As we have seen in the examples, there are many creative ways to create auditory image and describe sounds in a rich, detailed way. Let's look at the specific techniques and features of auditory imagery in more detail.

Figurative language

One of the main techniques used to create imagery (including auditory imagery) is called 'figurative language'. This is language that is not literal in its meaning. Instead, it goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the word or phrase to express something deeper. This is a creative way to express ourselves and can create a more vivid image.

For example, if we were to say 'Jeff is a couch potato' this does not mean that there is a potato called Jeff sitting on the couch. Instead, it goes beyond the literal meaning to describe a person who is lazy and spends too much time watching TV!

Figurative language is made up of different 'figures of speech'. Let's look at some examples- you probably recognise some of them!

  • Metaphors- metaphors describe a person, object, or thing by referring to it as something else. For example, 'Jemma's words were music to my ears'. This metaphor leads us to associate the nice sounds of music with the pleasant words said by Jemma.
  • Similes- similes describe a person, object, or thing by comparing it to something else. For example, 'Abby tiptoed as quiet as a mouse'. This simile creates an auditory image of Abby's quiet tiptoeing.
  • Personification- personification refers to describing something which isn't human using human-like qualities. For example, 'the wind howled'. This example of personification creates an auditory image of the sound of the wind. We can imagine a gust of wind passing through objects creating a howling sound, much like the howl of a wolf.
  • Hyperbole- hyperbole refers to a sentence that uses exaggeration to add emphasis. For example, 'you can hear Joe's laugh from a mile away!'. This example of hyperbole creates an auditory image of Joe's laugh. The exaggeration emphasises how loud and unique Joe's laugh is which creates more vivid auditory imagery.

Figurative language helps us to imagine sounds and even explain unfamiliar sounds that we might not have heard before. We are able to compare the qualities of the two things and create richer imagery using the different figures of speech. Figurative language is therefore a great way to add imagery to your writing!

Adjectives and adverbs

Descriptive language is vital when creating good imagery. Specific vocabulary such as adjectives and adverbs give further detail, helping the reader to visualise what is being described.

Adjectives are words that describe the qualities or features of a noun (a person, place, or thing) or a pronoun (a word that replaces a noun). This could be qualities like size, quantity, appearance, colour, and so on. For example, in the sentence 'I could hear the calm, melodic music from the kitchen' the words 'calm' and 'melodic' describe the sound of the music in more detail. This allows us to create an auditory image of the sound.

Adverbs are words that give more information about a verb, adjective, or another adverb. For example, 'she sang softly and quietly to the baby'. In this example, the singing is described using the adverbs 'softly' and 'quietly' which helps to create more detailed auditory imagery.

Auditory Imagery - Key Takeaways

  • Imagery is a literary device that uses descriptive language to create a mental image of a place, idea, or experience. It appeals to the reader's senses.
  • There are five types of imagery: visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory.
  • Auditory imagery is the use of descriptive language to create imagery that appeals to our sense of hearing. In other words, it refers to what we 'hear' in our mental image.
  • Writers can use auditory imagery to transport the reader to the setting of their story. This may be a description of a character's voice, the movement of objects, the sounds of nature, and so on.
  • We can create imagery using figurative language. This is language that is not literal in its meaning. Instead, it goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the word or phrase to express something deeper.

Frequently Asked Questions about Auditory Imagery

Auditory imagery is the use of descriptive language to create imagery that appeals to our sense of hearing. In other words, it refers to what we 'hear' in our mental image. 

Auditory imagery is often used in poetry because it is a type of literature that often appeals to the senses. Writers often use creative and descriptive language to create rich imagery.

We can identify auditory imagery from the description of sounds; it is what we hear in our mental image even when there is no external stimulus (i.e. no 'real-life sound'). 

Auditory imagery can describe music, voices, or general noises that we hear. It transports the reader or listener to the setting of a story. This may be a description of a character's voice, the movement of objects in the room, the sounds of nature, and so much more. 

An example of auditory imagery is 'He snored so loudly, it sounded like there was a steam train coming into the station!'. This descriptive language helps us to imagine the volume of a sound and compare it to a loud steam train.


Another example of auditory imagery is from Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth'. 


Knock, knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of

Belzebub? 

- Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Act-II, Scene-III, Lines 7-8


The 'knock knock' sounds are examples of onomatopoeia and help create auditory imagery as the reader or listener hears the knocking sounds in a similar way to the characters.

Final Auditory Imagery Quiz

Question

What is imagery?

Show answer

Answer

Imagery is a literary device that uses descriptive language to create a mental image of a place, idea, or experience. It appeals to the reader's senses.

Show question

Question

Imagery appeals to the reader's ________.

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Answer

Senses

Show question

Question

Imagery is a ______ device (writing technique). Fill in the blanks.

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Answer

Literary

Show question

Question

Below are reasons why writers use imagery. Spot the odd one out.

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Answer

Imagery is a tool for translating a foreign language.

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Question

What is auditory imagery?

Show answer

Answer

Auditory imagery is the use of descriptive language to create imagery that appeals to our sense of hearing.

Show question

Question

Auditory imagery refers to what we _____ in our mental image.

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Answer

Hear

Show question

Question

A description of a beautiful, red sunset is auditory imagery. True or false?

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

A description of beautiful, classical music is auditory imagery. True or false?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

A description of a character’s voice is auditory imagery. True or false?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a type of imagery.

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Answer

Explanatory imagery

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Question

Which of the following is an example of auditory imagery?


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Answer

The waves crashed loudly upon the shore.

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Question

 Which of the following is an example of auditory imagery?

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Answer

There was a complete silence in the room, you could hear a pin drop.

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Question

Which of the following is NOT an example of auditory imagery?

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Answer

The chocolate cake was sweet and delicious.

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Question

What techniques can we use to create auditory imagery?

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Answer

We can create imagery using figurative language and descriptive language including adjectives and adverbs.

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Question

__________ is language that is not literal in its meaning. Instead, it goes beyond the ordinary meaning of the word or phrase to express something deeper. Fill in the blanks.

Show answer

Answer

Figurative language

Show question

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