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Sean hurries into the room to hide from the hitman. As he closes the door and the room goes dark, he bumps into something which makes a loud sound/noise. Out in the hall the hitman has heard the sound/noise. He strides toward the door.

What is appropriate here - sound or noise ?

  • Although both words are possible in this context, most likely would be: Sean did not want to make a SOUND. But when he bumped into something, he made a NOISE. Here, noise implies a greater volume than sound. – Ronald Sole Nov 14 '19 at 17:07
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    For narrative purposes you might want to specify the actual type of noise, such as "clatter," "thump", or "crash." – barbecue Nov 14 '19 at 17:58
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Sound is generic and technically usable, but noise is more appropriate here, specifically because it implies that the sound is unwanted.

From Merriam-Webster:

2b: any sound that is undesired or interferes with one's hearing of something

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I think it's worth noting this chart, showing that both nouns are about equally common overall...

enter image description here

(It's much the same with makes a noise / sound, etc.)


To the extent that there's a difference, noise implies unwanted sound.

Often that's because the "noise" is competing with wanted sound[s] (as in a signal-to-noise ratio), or because it's unpleasant / painful to hear (jet engines are noisy, not "soundy").

But sometimes (as in OP's context), noise is the unwanted alternative to silence (obviously anything the hitman might hear would be "unwanted" from Sean's point of view).


Thus for OP's specific example, noise is the more "natural" choice. But sound isn't "incorrect" - it's just a less likely stylistic choice that probably wouldn't carry even a fine nuance of difference.

However, it is possible to identify a fairly likely distinction between the noun choices, where they both refer to something that's definitely "unwanted"...

[My parents are upstairs, so...]
...don't make a noise
...don't make a sound

Obviously the exact circumstances of the person being spoken to would mostly dictate the precise implication of the noun choice (I'm sure you can think up some possible scenarios! :) But by default, native speakers would understand Don't make a noise as meaning Don't make loud / noisy sounds, whereas Don't make a sound always means Don't make any sounds / noises.

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