Updated: Jan 7, 2020
Let’s begin by looking at the difference between “sound” and “noise.” Sometimes these words are interchangeable, but not always. A “sound” can be pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant – but “noise” is always either neutral or unpleasant. I woke up to the lovely sound of my wife playing the piano. (pleasant) I could hear the soft sound of their voices in the other room. (neutral) The fighting cats made horrible screeching sounds. (unpleasant) I can’t hear you; there’s a lot of background noise. Could you call me back? (neutral) My car is making an annoying buzzing noise whenever I turn on the A/C. (unpleasant) If a noise or sound is very strong, we can describe it as a loud sound/noise – and if it is REALLY intense, then we can describe it as a deafening sound/noise. On the other hand, if we can barely hear it, then it is a faint or soft sound/noise. There’s also a muffled sound – when it seems that something is blocking the sound.
Noise that doesn’t stop is called constant/incessant noise. You’ll hear this type of noise if your house is close to the highway, for example – you’ll hear the roar of traffic day and night. If you work in a factory, then you might hear the hum of machinery all day long. And if you live next door to college students, you’ll probably hear music blaring as they party every night. Nature is full of noises, too – such as birds chirping and dogs barking. If you sit near the ocean, you can listen to the waves crashing. When you’re in a remote, deserted area, you might hear the wind whistling through the trees. And if there’s a storm, you’ll hear the rumble of thunder – or be scared by a sudden thunderclap. Now let’s talk about the absence of sound. There’s a difference between the words “quiet” and “silent.” “Quiet” means that there is very little noise, whereas “silent” means there is no noise at all. You can emphasize the totality of the silence by saying that it was absolutely, completely, or perfectly silent. When it begins to be silent, you can say that silence descended or fell, and then when a noise interrupts the silence, it breaks or shatters the silence. It’s also common to use collocations to give an emotional tone to the quiet/silence: -The kids were oddly/strangely/uncharacteristically quiet (the fact that it is quiet is unusual, not normal)
-His joke about sex was followed by an awkward/uncomfortable silence. (the silence is due to embarrassment) -After yelling at her brother, she lapsed into a stony/sullen silence. (the silence is due to anger) -There was a shocked/stunned silence after the president announced his resignation. (the silence is due to extreme surprise) -The city becomes ominously/eerily quiet after midnight. (the quiet is frightening and possibly dangerous)