4 Words To Describe The Sound Of Coughing (Onomatopoeia)

Sometimes, we just can’t find the right words to describe sounds. So, we instead look for an onomatopoeia word that might work better for us. This article will look at all the best cough onomatopoeia that we can use to talk about the action of someone coughing.

Which Words Can Describe The Sound Of Coughing?

There aren’t many words out there we can use for the sound of coughing. However, some of the best ones that do work really well include:

  • Cough
  • Ahem
  • Kaff! Kaff!
  • Khoff khak khak!
Which Words Can Describe The Sound Of Coughing?

The preferred version is “cough.” Believe it or not, the word is already onomatopoeic, and the origin actually comes from the sound people make when they are forced to cough in such a way. We can still use it to show that someone is coughing.


Let’s start with “cough.” After all, it’s already an onomatopoeic word, and we can use it as such when we’re trying to show that someone is coughing for one reason or another.

“Cough” works well to describe the sound of itself. We can use the hard “C” sound at the start to identify the initial struggling sound of a cough. The “ough” ending is similar to the phlegmy noise that we can create once we’ve dislodged whatever it is that led us to cough.

The definition of “cough,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “to make a sound like a cough.”

As you can see from the Dictionary definition above, we can simply describe “cough” as a sound like a “cough.” While defining a word with the same word might sound counterintuitive, it makes sense when dealing with sound-based words.

The best thing about using “cough” to describe itself is that it’s so broad.

We can use it to talk about a very aggressive splutter (i.e., one that comes from being sick or unable to control it). We could also use it in the other way to show a very mild splutter or a simple clearing of the throat to get somebody’s attention.

Here are some examples of how it might look in a sentence:

  • Cough, cough! I’m sorry, I simply had to clear my throat before beginning.
  • I can’t help but cough! I’m so sick! Cough!
  • Cough! Ah, I can’t get any of this phlegm out of my throat!
  • Cough! Cough! That is disgusting! I hate being as sick as this!


“Ahem” is much softer than “cough,” but it’s another classic example of using cough onomatopoeia to explain how someone is coughing.

“Ahem” is a great way to describe the sound of a “cough.” However, it’s always regarded as much softer than “cough.” We mostly use it when people want to clear their throats or get someone’s attention.

Using “ahem” to clear one’s throat isn’t always related to being sick. Sometimes, we just want to show people that we’re there, and we often clear our throats rather than speaking to let them know of our presence.

It’s actually a surprisingly common trait for people to have. Many people would much rather cough or clear their throat than say anything. This is particularly effective when the situation is fairly embarrassing, and you don’t want to be too close to it.

You might see “ahem” work as follows:

  • Ahem! Forgive my intrusion, but I simply must ask you what you’re doing.
  • Ahem! I can’t seem to cough up the last little bit of phlegm.
  • Ahem! Ahem! Please excuse me; I need to treat myself to a lozenge.
  • Ahem! How could you say something like that? Did you not realize I was here?

Kaff! Kaff!

There are plenty of other onomatopoeia options we can use with coughing. The thing is, most of those words come from your own imagination. We thought we’d include “Kaff! Kaff!” as a good example of how you can make up your own sound.

As long as the right sounds and syllables are met, any word can work as cough onomatopoeia. “Kaff” already follows a similar pronunciation to “cough,” which shows that someone is spluttering or struggling to clear their throat.

“Kaff! Kaff!” is the example we wanted to share because it’s a common choice for people who don’t want to use “cough.” It works well to establish the same noise as a “cough” without outright using the word.

But the overall choice is yours. You could even make up some others, so long as they match or are similar to a coughing noise:

  • Cahem
  • Chlreugm
  • Bleurghhhh

While these might look nonsensical, they still work. That’s the beauty of onomatopoeia. The final choice is always yours as to which one you think works best to describe a cough.

Here’s how you might use this particular one in writing:

  • Kaff! Kaff! Sorry about that; I didn’t mean to spit it all over your face.
  • Kaff! Kaff! I think I’m coming down with something again.
  • All I ever hear from her is kaff! Kaff! Anyone would think she’s sick!
  • Kaff! Kaff! I don’t need to hear more, so I’m trying to drown you out.

Khoff Khak Khak

Now, this one might look a little strange, but it’s still a legitimate option. In fact, it’s from a direct source, which is why we thought we’d include it.

“Khoff khak khak” is cough onomatopoeia used in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series. In the comic, whenever someone coughs, “khoff khak khak” is one of the options for describing the sounds.

You might already know this, but comics and graphic novels are one of the leaders in demonstrating onomatopoeic noises. They will often develop their own sets of words or phrases that will help describe noises.

Since comics rely heavily on a visual medium, sometimes sounds are lacking. Therefore, comics like “Sandman” will aim to show what sounds are happening in the same scene while a reader goes through it.

You might see “khoff khak khak” in comic books, but we’ll include some other written variations as well:

  • Khoff khak khak! He was definitely more sick than he was letting on.
  • Khoff khak khak! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get that over you!
  • Khoff khak khak! Sorry sir, but I’m going to have to take the rest of the day off.
  • Khoff khak khak! I need some medicine!

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