This can be a very basic, even boring question for native English speakers. But for me who is a non-native English speaker, the words, clank and clatter are a little hard to understand each precisely. So I would like to ask about the difference between clank and clatter.

From Google's English dictionary, clank is defined as follows.

a loud, sharp sound or series of sounds, typically made by pieces of metal meeting or being struck together.

clatter is defined as follows.

a continuous rattling sound as of hard objects falling or striking each other.

From the example sentences in dictionaries I think clank describes a more high-pitched sound whereas clatter denotes a lower, but more continuous and louder sound. Am I right?

Further explanations will be greatly helpful and appreciated. Thank you.

  • 4
    To me, "clank" is a single sound, or maybe a sound that is exactly and regularly repeated (think hitting two pieces of metal together either once or rhythmically repeated). "Clatter" is a series of sounds that are irregular (think of shaking a box of metal objects around). There is no difference in pitch or volume. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 12:19
  • 2
    Clanking sounds almost always involve metal on metal, whereas clonking and clunking usually imply lower-pitched sounds that don't necessarily involve metal. And clinking is a higher-pitched sound, more likely involving glass (on metal or another piece of glass). A clatter usually just means any loud noise produced by multiple hard objects bumping together (often more or less rhythmically / repeatedly, as might be produced by multiple noisy linkages in an engine, or a train running over points, for example). Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 13:18

2 Answers 2


There is a term - onomatopoeia - that means a word that phonetically imitates the sound it describes. Both "clank" and "clatter" are somewhat onomatopoeic and the two sounds differ in rhythm and repetition, not in pitch or volume.

Clank is a single-syllable word that begins and ends with a harsh /k/ sound. It describes a single, sharp metallic sound. That sound might be repeated, but each individual clank is an isolated sound, just like the single-syllable word "clank" itself. Someone describing a sound might actually use the word "clank," spoken emphatically, as the sound itself:

I was driving home and all of a sudden I heard the engine go 'clank!' and now my car won't start again.

That's typical for an onomatopoeia: the use of the word itself to imitate the sound.

Clatter is a two-syllable word with a strong syllable and a weak one, with the weak syllable ending in the mild consonant /r/. It describes a series of sounds that vary in volume, like continuously shaking a box full of silverware back and forth. And again, you might hear an onomatopoeic use of the word in place of the sound itself:

Every time I'm pressing the gas pedal, I hear the car go 'clatter-clatter-clatter' so I'm taking it to the mechanic.

  • 1
    +1 for the bit about repetition. I think clank is generally an isolated sound, while clatter describes a more chaotic commotion.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 18:00

A clanking is a sound made by a relatively heavy piece of metal striking another piece of dense and heavy metal, for example, a metal pipe wrench striking a cast iron pipe, or a metal halyard striking against a flagpole on a windy day. Clanks tend to be at relatively even intervals.

A clatter is a less dull sound, and a more chaotic sound, and can be made by lightweight objects. If you drop a pie tin or an aluminum cookie tray down a flight a stairs, or a folding chair whether it's made of metal or wood, they will make a (frightful) clatter.

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