Definition of smell in English:

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Pronunciation: /smɛl/


[mass noun]
1The faculty or power of perceiving odours or scents by means of the organs in the nose: a highly developed sense of smell dogs locate the bait by smell
More example sentences
  • It's hard to breathe, your nose drips constantly and your sense of smell just isn't what it used to be.
  • All anteaters have an excellent sense of smell; sight and hearing are not as well developed.
  • On the day of the test none of the subjects reported to be suffering from nasal congestion or any other symptom thought to affect their sense of smell.
1.1 [count noun] A quality in something that is perceived by the faculty of smell; an odour or scent: lingering kitchen smells a smell of coffee
More example sentences
  • Christmas morning came with the smells of pine from candles and coffee in the kitchen.
  • Putrid smells of raw sewage and burning garbage become acceptable after being exposed to these foul scents for a long enough time.
  • As we were driving down these terrible, lumpy, unlit streets we were constantly catching whiffs of different smells.
odour, whiff
aroma, fragrance, scent, perfume, redolence, tang, savour;
bouquet, nose
1.2An unpleasant odour: twenty-seven cats lived there—you can imagine the smell!
More example sentences
  • My last apartment had a smell to it - though I have no idea why.
  • It took us forever to figure out why we had a smell when we'd open certain upper cabinets in the kitchen.
stench, stink, reek, fetidness, effluvium, miasma
British informal pong, niff, whiff, hum
Scottish informal guff
North American informal funk
rare fetor, malodour, mephitis
1.3An act of inhaling in order to ascertain an odour or scent: have a smell of this
More example sentences
  • He had a smell of the rose, it had a lovely perfume.
  • I love citrus -- but the first time I sprayed this on a card and took a smell I almost passed out. It is STRONG in the first few minutes.

verb (past and past participle smelt /smɛlt/ or smelled)

1 [with object] Perceive or detect the odour or scent of (something): I think I can smell something burning [no object]: becoming deaf or blind or unable to smell
More example sentences
  • From inside, I could hear the crackling of a fire and could smell the burning wood.
  • He kissed the top of her head, smelling the sweet lavender scent of her shampoo.
  • The mother of three owns a natural products shop in Oriental, N.C., but was unable to smell the fragrant herbs she sells.
get a whiff of, scent, get a sniff of, detect the smell of
1.1Sniff at (something) in order to perceive or detect its odour or scent: the dogs smell each other
More example sentences
  • We separated the cats into two separate rooms and let them smell each other under the door.
  • And the new initiatives are bomb sniffing dogs we are looking at, so can smell explosives hidden in containers.
  • A police dog who happens to smell an illegal substance on casual passing in a train station is probably cause for detaining you.
sniff, nose
1.2 (smell something out) Detect or discover something by the faculty of smell: his nose can smell out an animal from ten miles away
More example sentences
  • I think a few more of those pastries have my name on them,’ she said looking down the hall to see if she could smell them out.
1.3Detect or suspect (something) by means of instinct or intuition: he can smell trouble long before it gets serious he can smell out weakness in others
More example sentences
  • The National Party council could smell the trouble back then in December.
  • Lemond was unconvinced and believed, like many others, Hinault could smell a record sixth victory.
  • Even without any evidence he can smell out the truth.
2 [no object] Emit an odour or scent of a specified kind: the place smelled of damp [with complement]: the food smelt and tasted good (as adjective, in combination -smelling) a strong-smelling herb
More example sentences
  • You poured in everything that was left of the geranium essence, until the room was warm and scented and smelled like an exotic hothouse.
  • But something else came with the earthy scent - something that smelled like smoke.
  • It went on like this for several more rounds before what was in the pot finally tasted and smelled like something you'd want to serve on pasta.
2.1Have a strong or unpleasant odour: if I don’t get a bath soon I’ll start to smell it smells in here
More example sentences
  • It is hard to describe what it is like under these bridges, where there is not enough height for a person to stand up straight, it smells, and the wind blows and even howls through the darkness.
  • Someone comes into the building and it smells, things fall off in their hands, the floor doesn't look too secure.
  • The carcass which had already began to smell revealed a red mess with two holes where eyes should have been.
stink, stink to high heaven, reek, have a bad smell, be stinking, be malodorous
British informal pong, hum
2.2Appear in a certain way; be suggestive of something: it smells like a hoax to me
More example sentences
  • I'm sure the parent company is optimistic but this smells like the beginning of the end of Koo Koo Roo to me.
  • Regardless of whether Kranish ever meant to write fluff for Kerry's book or not, the Elliott story smells like a put-up job.
give the impression of, smack of, savour of, have the hallmarks of, have all the signs of, seem/appear like, have the air of, suggest



smell blood

Discern weakness or vulnerability in an opponent: the leader of the opposition, who smelt blood, accused the government of the biggest tax hike ever
More example sentences
  • But it is the conservative opposition that is smelling blood as the Greek Socialists struggle desperately to avoid defeat next Sunday, forcing them out of office after more than 20 years of almost uninterrupted rule.
  • Oppositions always cry resign when they smell blood, merely because that's what Oppositions do.
  • The Tories will smell blood and be an effective opposition again at last.

smell a rat

informal Begin to suspect trickery or deception: when he died, investigators were called in and soon smelt a rat
More example sentences
  • Residents of Hopgrove were sent letters informing them their wheelie bins would arrive at the beginning of April but, when none turned up, they began to smell a rat.
  • Within a few days however somebody began to smell a rat when the ‘exact same letter’ - except for the signatures of course - began to turn up in eleven different US local newspaper groups.
  • They failed to smell a rat despite Baron Cohen's absurd questions.

smell the roses

North American informal Enjoy or appreciate what is often ignored: they need to wake up and smell the roses
More example sentences
  • If we have enough food on the table, and gainful employment, then we should take time to smell the roses and enjoy the precious moments of our lives - like sands in an hour glass.
  • It's important to take time out once in a while to enjoy the fruits of one's labours, smell the roses and enjoy.
  • But bloody hell that girl has to wake up and smell the roses.



Example sentences
  • Most of what is commonly called the sense of taste is in fact the sense of smell, whether applied to wine, or any food or drink, since by chewing we transform our food into liquid which gives off smellable vapour.
  • The purpose of a smellable toy is to further the pets interest in playing with the toy.
  • The mama bear checked every part of our camping ground part by a part and searched any smellable things there were.


Example sentences
  • Mosquitoes may be great smellers, but they are weak fliers.
  • It is unclear what exactly makes dogs such good smellers, though much more of the dog brain is devoted to smell than it is in humans.
  • Thus while Lynda learns that ‘good’ smells are relative to the smeller, the reader also assumes from this panel that Lynda's neighbors moved to avoid further contact with the smells from Lynda's home.


Middle English: of unknown origin.

  • No one is sure where smell comes from—there is no related word in other languages. To come up smelling of roses is to make a lucky escape from a difficult or unpleasant situation with your reputation intact. Rose bushes thrive on plenty of manure, and the image here is of someone falling into a freshly fertilized rose bed. Dating from the 1930s and American in origin, is stop and smell the roses, or take time to fully appreciate life's pleasures. If someone tells you to wake up and smell the coffee, on the other hand, they are urging you to be less relaxed, and to become more realistic or alert. The phrase was popularized by the US advice columnist Ann Landers from the mid 1950s.

Words that rhyme with smell

Adele, Aix-la-Chapelle, aquarelle, artel, au naturel, bagatelle, béchamel, befell, bell, belle, boatel, Brunel, Cadell, carousel, cartel, cell, Chanel, chanterelle, clientele, Clonmel, compel, Cornell, crime passionnel, dell, demoiselle, dispel, dwell, el, ell, Estelle, excel, expel, farewell, fell, Fidel, fontanelle, foretell, Gabrielle, gazelle, gel, Giselle, hell, hotel, impel, knell, lapel, mademoiselle, maître d'hôtel, Manuel, marcel, matériel, mesdemoiselles, Michel, Michelle, Miguel, misspell, morel, moschatel, Moselle, motel, muscatel, nacelle, Nell, Nobel, Noel, organelle, outsell, Parnell, pell-mell, personnel, propel, quell, quenelle, rappel, Raquel, Ravel, rebel, repel, Rochelle, Sahel, sardelle, sell, shell, show-and-tell, Snell, spell, spinel, swell, tell, undersell, vielle, villanelle, well, yell

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: smell

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