Definition of sibilant in US English:



  • 1Making or characterized by a hissing sound.

    ‘his sibilant whisper’
    • ‘There were shouts and laughter and sibilant whispers.’
    • ‘From the quiet strains of a young Henry Mancini to the jarring sibilant tones whenever the monster makes an appearance, it is a piece of movie history.’
    • ‘We all spoke German, too, at the table - except when talking to the waitress, when we settled into sibilant cadences and sharp vowels.’
    • ‘They were modulated, sibilant sounds, fairly deep, probably due to length of the throat.’
    • ‘You hear the sibilant whisper of gentle waves washing the shore and you know the sea is calm tonight.’
  • 2Phonetics
    (of a speech sound) sounded with a hissing effect, for example s, sh.

    • ‘The addition of e before s after sibilant consonants (pass/passes) and final o (go/goes).’
    • ‘Modern Portuguese is characterized by an abundance of sibilant and palatal consonants and a broad spectrum of vowel sounds (five nasal phonemes and eight to ten oral ones).’
    • ‘Though everyone else in the picture speaks in some variation of a British accent, poor Jolie has been given the Transylvanian throat-sucker's throaty, sibilant vowels, as well as a wardrobe of snakes.’
    • ‘English, Chinese, and Japanese all share sounds that involve very high rates of air flow out of the mouth - the sibilant fricatives.’


  • A sibilant speech sound.

    • ‘The sun also lingers in the sound pattern; sibilants coupled with long vowels elongate the lines, creating the effect of the lengthening rays of the evening sun.’
    • ‘It doesn't involve any slurry sibilants and its only pesky, easy-to-drop vowel is held prisoner between two rugged consonants.’
    • ‘But I love hearing French rapped - all those elisions and sibilants are a dreamy alternative to hard-consonant English spitting.’
    • ‘Some readers do elocution lessons to get rid of troublesome sibilants or worrisome vowels (try imitating a fish).’
    • ‘He kept separate the constituents of consonantal clusters, relishing sibilants and fricatives as much as plosives and liquids, and studied the duration of pauses as carefully as the duration of syllables.’


Mid 17th century: from Latin sibilant- ‘hissing’, from the verb sibilare.