Definition of sibilant in US English:



  • 1Making or characterized by a hissing sound.

    ‘his sibilant whisper’
    • ‘You hear the sibilant whisper of gentle waves washing the shore and you know the sea is calm tonight.’
    • ‘They were modulated, sibilant sounds, fairly deep, probably due to length of the throat.’
    • ‘We all spoke German, too, at the table - except when talking to the waitress, when we settled into sibilant cadences and sharp vowels.’
    • ‘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.’
  • 2Phonetics
    (of a speech sound) sounded with a hissing effect, for example s, sh.

    • ‘English, Chinese, and Japanese all share sounds that involve very high rates of air flow out of the mouth - the sibilant fricatives.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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).’
    • ‘The addition of e before s after sibilant consonants (pass/passes) and final o (go/goes).’


  • A sibilant speech sound.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Some readers do elocution lessons to get rid of troublesome sibilants or worrisome vowels (try imitating a fish).’
    • ‘It doesn't involve any slurry sibilants and its only pesky, easy-to-drop vowel is held prisoner between two rugged consonants.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But I love hearing French rapped - all those elisions and sibilants are a dreamy alternative to hard-consonant English spitting.’


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