Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Michelle Kaplan
"The New York Radio Girl"

Have you heard people talk about the word “noise” in English?

Have you also heard people use the word “sound” and felt confused about the differences here?

Though these two words are similar, there are some definite differences that you want to know about.

We’re going to look at the words noise and sound, what the differences are, and how to use each of them in conversation.

Quick shout out to Fernanda- Spotify recognized her as one of the top 10 listeners of AEE in 2020- if anyone else received this award- let us know!! We’ll shout out to you as well!

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Looking At Two Similar Words

Recently we had a conversation with a student about the difference between these two similar words– Sound and noise.

This is a great question and we wanted to go over it with our listeners today because it is important to understand the difference.

Though the differences may seem subtle, it makes a big difference in the way that each is used.

So let’s start with a bit of background, check out this episode where we talked about sound as it will help you.

Make Your English More Sound With Today’s Episode

So what exactly is a sound?

You use your ears to hear it, and you are dealing with listening—a sound is basically something that is heard.

We talk about this in the episode above which will help you to have some background.

But you listen to the sound of something and it can be heard and often enjoyed.

You might say something like “I love the sound of a baby laughing.”

You could also say “The sound of the rain is very relaxing to me.”

So what is a noise then?

It’s ultimately the same as a sound, but it is generally not a positive thing.

A noise is not usually nice to hear, and you don’t want to hear it.

This is not soothing, relaxing, or enjoyable and this is where the biggest differences lie.

You might say something like “What was that scary noise?”

You might hear something like “There’s a noise coming from my dishwasher. I need someone to check it out.”

Using These In Conversation

We are speaking about both of these words as nouns, and that’s what the examples that you see are based upon.

Of course, sound can also be a verb and that’s important to remember.

You want to consider the context so that you can see how to use these words in the right way.

For example, you can’t say that something “noises”, which we talked about in the other episode.

You can however say that something “sounds” a certain way, and you will see this used a lot.

A couple of examples of this can be helpful so you can see how this works.

  • “That sounds nice.” This is from the dictionary and it means to “convey a specified impression when heard.”
  • “That sounds like a good idea.” This is to say that you like what you’re hearing and it appears to be a good idea to you.
  • “Does that sound good to you?” You are trying to get clarification if something is appealing or works for somebody, and so this works well in conversation.

On the other end of this, noise can be used as “noisy” for something that is loud—again this is not a positive thing and is often off putting.

You can’t describe something as “soundy” and so it works in the same way but at the opposite end of the spectrum.

You could say something like “It’s very noisy outside. Sorry.”

Idioms and Expressions In This Area

There are some idioms that use either of these words in conversation, and they can be great to try out.

They have different meanings, but use either of the two words and so they are great to practice and start using in your conversations.

  • All that noise: This is talking about nonsense or something that is ridiculous or unnecessary in some way. It’s like you are trying to say to tune out all the chatter or not to listen to the negativity. You might say “Don’t listen to all that noise.”
  • Make noise: This is telling somebody to be loud about something. It may be that you are trying to get a crowd riled up and excited. It may be that you are encouraging somebody to stand up for what they believe in. You might hear “The union made a lot of noise about the way its members had been treated.”
  • Background noise: This is some sort of noise that is happening and you don’t even really hear it or pay attention to it. This may be occurring in the background and you aren’t even conscious of it. You may have background noise on while you are working. You might say “There is some background noise on the recording, but it should be okay.”
  • We need to stop listening to the noise: Lindsay heard a politician say this on TV, and it’s a more profound idiom. In this context it means that you need to tune out all the noise or the outside distraction or interference. There can be a lot of people saying things and a lot of negativity and this encourages you to tune that out and not listen to it so that you can focus on what’s truly important.

Some Great Conversation Questions In This Area

You may wish to use these in conversation, but feel unsure of how to do so.

Here are a couple of conversation questions related to these topics that you can use to help you.

These get you thinking, so they are worth asking yourself first so you can practice with these words and phrases.

Then you can start to use these in your conversations, and you will see just how natural they can be.

-What is the most pleasant sound you can think of?

-Do you ever get creeped out by “house noises?” That is to say the random noises that you hear around the house.

-When is it worth it to make a lot of noise about something? Why? What gets you so excited or worked up that you want to make some noise about it?

-Do you get stressed out when it is noisy outside of your home?

-Do you like to hear any specific sound while you are trying to sleep or does it need to be silent?

These are great conversation questions to think through and to answer on your own.

Then these can be a great way to get the conversation going, as well as to make some great connections.

Roleplay To Help

Lindsay and Michelle are studying late at night at Lindsay’s house.

Lindsay: “Did you hear that noise?”

Michelle: “No. I only hear the sound of your dishwasher.”

Lindsay: “Oh ok, I got nervous. Oh man, I’m so nervous about this test. SO many people have said it’s super hard.”

Michelle: “Eh, don’t listen to all that noise. It’ll be fine.”

Lindsay: “I know. Also, the classroom is always so loud during tests. I can’t concentrate with that background noise.”

Michelle: “Hmm, if it’s too noisy, should we make noise about it and tell the teacher to make sure it’s quiet?”

Lindsay: “Maybe!”

Takeaway

We reviewed the word sound and spoke about noise and discussed the differences.

Though these two words seem very similar, they have different uses in conversation.

You want to see which one is right for the conversation at hand, and practice using them to get a true feel for this.

This is a great subtle difference to understand, and these are great words and phrases to try out in your conversations.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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