Definition of sniff in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /snɪf/


[no object]
1Draw up air audibly through the nose to detect a smell, to stop it running, or to express contempt: his dog sniffed at my trousers [with direct speech]: ‘You’re behaving in an unladylike fashion,’ sniffed Mother
More example sentences
  • In the past, some elitists have sniffed at her for precisely these reasons, but her fans love her as much for who she is as for her beautiful voice.
  • Five years ago we just would not even have sniffed at those awards.
  • The predator sniffed at her prey once more, suddenly doubting that she had caught a genuine mate.
inhale, snuffle, breathe in, snuff (up)
1.1 [with object] Draw in (a scent, substance, or air) through the nose: Miranda sniffed the heavy perfume of the lilies
More example sentences
  • Rather than give an answer, the major sniffed the air, heavy with the scent of cooking.
  • She moved among the ashes sniffing the air hoping to pick up on his scent.
  • He sniffs the air and finds the scent of the pizza.
smell, test the smell of, nose at;
detect the smell of, pick up the smell of, catch the scent of, scent, get a whiff of
1.2 (sniff around/round) informal Investigate covertly, especially in an attempt to find out confidential or incriminating information about someone: a couple of journalists are sniffing around
More example sentences
  • He sniffed around in an attempt to find something to do, as his mistress was still asleep.
  • Of course it went sour, all them bands sniffing round politicians.
  • It doesn't take more than five minutes of observation to figure out what's going on and notice everyone in the network, and yet there never seems to be a police officer even just sniffing around them.
1.3 [with object] (sniff something out) informal Discover something by investigation: he made millions sniffing out tax loopholes for companies
More example sentences
  • They have got to be careful and able to smell danger, sniff it out and walk away from trouble.
  • Second, while crooked execs may have fooled analysts, the media, and the public, the market sniffed them out.
  • The dog had actually sniffed it out from under some leaves.
detect, find, search out, discover, disclose, bring to light, track down, dig up, hunt out, ferret out, root out, uncover, unearth, disinter, smell out, nose out, follow the scent of, scent out, run to earth/ground


1An act or sound of sniffing: he gave a sniff of disapproval
More example sentences
  • The sounds of her occasional sniffs could be heard.
  • The soft kid slippers she wore on her feet made a sound like short quick sniffs.
  • The sound of an occasional sniff twisted the pain even deeper.
scorn, disdain, hold in disdain, show contempt for, be contemptuous of, treat/regard with contempt, hold in contempt, treat as inferior, be snobbish to, despise, look down on, pour/heap scorn on, sneer at, scoff at
informal turn one's nose up at, look down one's nose at
1.1An amount of air or other substance taken up by sniffing: his drug use was confined to a sniff of amyl nitrite
More example sentences
  • He look a deep sniff of the substance and smiled.
  • Keep them there for a while, just long enough for them to have been put through the mill a bit and caught a sniff of final victory, then rip the carpet from under them at the very last minute.
  • But you can definitely see some clubs having a bit of a sniff of him because the lad has a lot to offer.
smell, scent, whiff;
1.2 [in singular] informal A hint or sign: they’re off at the first sniff of trouble
More example sentences
  • None gave a sniff of atmosphere or a hint of the third dimension of depth that is lacking in all televisual presentations.
  • Watching people sniff suspiciously at our currency has become, in this household at any rate, a family sport.
  • Did you go on to other people's labs and sniff out to see whether there were any signs of producing stuff for nasty purposes rather than just research purposes?
indication, hint, intimation, whiff, inkling, suggestion, suspicion, whisper, trace, signal, sign, clue, gleam, wind
1.3 [in singular] informal A small chance: the Olympic hosts will at least get a sniff at a medal
More example sentences
  • Nobody expected him to even get a sniff at the medals and, once again, he proved us all wrong.
  • They bark on about traffic and its reduction, but what about the dozens of vans and people flooding into town from elsewhere to do this work at rates people round here wouldn't get a sniff at?
  • These players won't get a sniff at England's World Cup squad.


not to be sniffed at

informal Worth having, accepting, or taking into account: the price is not to be sniffed at
More example sentences
  • Their salaries apart (and they're not to be sniffed at either), the expenses really are generous and are way above what most of us can claim in our respective spheres of employment.
  • And, as eight of those players have been granted first team squad numbers while the rest are among the cream of Britain's young crop, then the scoreline is not to be sniffed at.
  • However, as these normally offer an attractive range of benefits, including an inflation-proofed pension in some cases, they are not to be sniffed at.





Middle English: imitative.

Words that rhyme with sniff

biff, cliff, glyph, if, kif, miff, niff, quiff, riff, skew-whiff, skiff, spliff, stiff, tiff, whiff

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: sniff

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.