To save you time: I know the word rap and knock have very many meanings, but I only refer to the sound made at the door to ask permission to enter.

I'd like to know the difference between the two words, especially in terms of sound and strength. Is one stronger or louder than the other? Does one sound more polite and gentle? Is there a difference in register?

Knocking (n): a sharp rapping with the knuckles, a hard object, etc, esp to capture attention the sound that an engine or bearing makes as a result of wear or faulty combustion.

To knock (same link as before): To strike a sharp audible blow or series of blows, as on a door.

To rap: to strike (a fist, stick, etc) against (something) with a sharp quick blow; knock.

  • What is your question here? Could you explain or ask more precisely? – Bella Swan Mar 20 '19 at 6:46
  • I added explanation – Fra Mar 20 '19 at 6:51

Knocking is polite, patient and gentle. One cannot obviously break the door by just hitting it with their knuckles.
Rapping, on the other hand, is hard, impolite, and usually does when someone is in much hurry or anger. The force is stronger as something (an object or hand punches etc) is being used to apply more pressure and create more sound.

(Rapping in context of knocking can be used when one is using their palm or punches to hit the door, not their knuckles.)

  • 1
    This may be a valid distinction now, but I think in the 19th century rapping may have had the same meaning that knocking has today- basing this off of The Raven - “While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” – Mixolydian Mar 20 '19 at 13:02

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