Definition of sniff in English:



[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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘They picked up items that lay strewn across the small control panel and sniffed at them.’
    • ‘Like I mention in all my articles, search engines are getting smarter and can detect and sniff out a network of web sites created to help one thing, profit.’
    • ‘The grass waved around in the breeze and a few animals scurried away except for a rabbit, whose curiosity overcame it and it sniffed at the human.’
    • ‘The smaller one picked them up, sniffed at them, and then glanced around suspiciously.’
    • ‘She slowly sat up, sniffing and wiping her nose with a hand, happy anyway.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘He picked it up, sniffed at it, and brought it as close to his eye as he could.’
    • ‘She sniffed wearily at the smell of smoke, sweat and beery farts and opened the window.’
    • ‘Angel sniffed at my hand, then climbed up my arm and started sniffing at my face.’
    • ‘His large snout sniffed at the air, and he bowed graciously, his large ears flopping.’
    • ‘He sniffed at the plate, determining by scent in which sequence to push the buttons.’
    • ‘The dog sniffed at each of them in turn, wagged his huge tail, and gave a booming bark of satisfaction.’
    • ‘The girl sniffed at them and swept off to find someone less boyish to play with.’
    • ‘His mother passed him a cup of tea, which he sniffed at suspiciously.’
    • ‘Nothing will stop him trying to sniff out chances.’
    • ‘The two mongrel dogs skulked to her side and sniffed at the hem of her dress.’
    • ‘Surreptitiously, he sniffed at it as he raised it to his lips, then took a small sip.’
    • ‘A hairless hand scooped the slabs up and raised them to the face as the creature sniffed at the steaks.’
    inhale, snuffle, breathe in, snuff, snuff up
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    1. 1.1with object Draw in (a scent, substance, or air) through the nose.
      ‘Miranda sniffed the heavy perfume of the lilies’
      • ‘And I would see people subtly sniff the air and then their own clothing, not sure whether it was themselves that were smelling slightly off or not.’
      • ‘The wolf turned his head as he sniffed the air, catching the scent of man in his nostrils.’
      • ‘I sniffed the air; I couldn't pick up any scents that were out of place.’
      • ‘He sniffs the air, and catches a million faint scents no one else on the planet can detect.’
      • ‘He then progressed to sitting outside on the back doorstep, sniffing the air and surveying the territory.’
      • ‘He pulled back the piece of cloth that swathed his sunburnt head, and sniffed the air.’
      • ‘He leaned over the pot and sniffed appreciatively as the smell of lamb reached his pointed nose.’
      • ‘He sniffs the air and finds the scent of the pizza.’
      • ‘The dog leapt from the sidecar sniffing the air and ground for any sign of the vampiress.’
      • ‘Rather than give an answer, the major sniffed the air, heavy with the scent of cooking.’
      • ‘It was perched on the edge of one of the counters, sniffing the air with its tiny blue nose.’
      • ‘Joe's collie dog got up from her basket under the table and joined him at the door, sniffing the air.’
      • ‘The thing entered the room and looked around, sniffing the air for the scent of what he was after.’
      • ‘He brought the wet clump of earth to his nose and sniffed at it.’
      • ‘There's another network that will be sniffing the air for radioactive particles.’
      • ‘She walked towards him tentatively, sniffing the air, her cries echoing off the hard surfaces of the lab.’
      • ‘In fact, there was so much polish that you could almost get high by sniffing the air.’
      • ‘The snow tiger seemed edgy, and she sniffed the air as if searching for something.’
      • ‘She moved among the ashes sniffing the air hoping to pick up on his scent.’
      • ‘As we skimmed across the lagoon, sniffing the sea air, there was nothing to see at first but the odd sea bird perched on a marker buoy.’
      smell, test the smell of, nose at
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    2. 1.2sniff around/roundinformal Investigate covertly, especially in an attempt to find out confidential or incriminating information about someone.
      ‘a couple of journalists are sniffing around’
      • ‘The Federal Trade Commission is again sniffing around the video game industry, this time for data on sales of mature-themed games to minors.’
      • ‘He sniffed around in an attempt to find something to do, as his mistress was still asleep.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘They continued walking until they disappeared behind the back edge of the pond, sniffing around looking for something to eat.’
      • ‘The program has gained such a reputation that sometimes when a reporter starts sniffing around a village, the problem will be cleared up before she can even come back to report on it.’
      • ‘Of course it went sour, all them bands sniffing round politicians.’
      • ‘I understand a lot of pop artists are sniffing around the Philly soul sound, coming to town and trying to catch some vibes, maybe hook up some production too.’
      • ‘As soon as I started applying it, she came sniffing around into my general vicinity, trying to track down the scent.’
      • ‘In order to avoid charges of heresy (the Inquisition were always sniffing around him), Nostradamus wrote in a deliberately vague and obscure manner.’
      • ‘I'd say she should start sniffing around for a wife.’
    3. 1.3sniff something outinformal with object Discover something by investigation.
      ‘he made millions sniffing out tax loopholes for companies’
      • ‘Second, while crooked execs may have fooled analysts, the media, and the public, the market sniffed them out.’
      • ‘His guarantee of service includes a promise to reconnect your pirated line after cable officials sniff it out.’
      • ‘Police were not welcome in this sort of place, and even undercover ones could be sniffed out by this crowd more efficiently than by a pack of blood hounds.’
      • ‘The dog had actually sniffed it out from under some leaves.’
      • ‘She can sniff them out like a pig finding truffles.’
      • ‘They have got to be careful and able to smell danger, sniff it out and walk away from trouble.’
      • ‘Journalists are spoken about in canine metaphors: they're watchdogs, or attack dogs, they hunt in packs, they sniff things out.’
      • ‘But when it comes to finding his office, you have to either sniff it out or stumble across it.’
      • ‘I mean, it would be great if I could bring everyone with me but I was trying to figure out a way to sniff it out on my own.’
      • ‘The second reason it's difficult to be happy is that we think we can measure happiness, or sniff it out like truffles.’
      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, run to ground
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  • 1An act or sound of sniffing.

    ‘he gave a sniff of disapproval’
    • ‘An easier life-lesson would be greatly appreciated, she thought while sounding a sniff.’
    • ‘The muffled sounds of sniffs and small sobs could barely be heard through the door.’
    • ‘The soft kid slippers she wore on her feet made a sound like short quick sniffs.’
    • ‘If you could ask a rat, it could locate the direction of the stench's source in a single sniff, scientists report in a new study.’
    • ‘The sounds of her occasional sniffs could be heard.’
    • ‘With a loud sniff, Laura rose from the bed and walked into the kitchen.’
    • ‘Slowly, her wails subsided, and turned into quiet sniffs.’
    • ‘The sound of an occasional sniff twisted the pain even deeper.’
    • ‘When the young woman gets to the counter, the female clerk sniffs, looks up and tells her that she recognizes the man's scent.’
    • ‘She used Ryan's jacket to cover her numbing feet, and, glancing at his seating position, she gave a loud sniff.’
    • ‘We sat there for a few minutes in silence, the only sound was of my sniffs and whimpers as I tried to stop crying.’
    • ‘He was answered with what sounded like a sniff and a smothered sob.’
    • ‘The lady carefully pouted, and gave a loud sniff.’
    • ‘‘I've caught somesing,’ she replied then interrupted with a loud sniff.’
    • ‘She didn't answer him, another desolate sniff sounding instead.’
    • ‘Her sweet tears dribbled down my face as her sniffs turned to heartfelt sobs.’
    • ‘A loud sniff resounded in the room and I snickered.’
    • ‘She bent over the table and swept her head over the mushrooms, giving a loud sniff.’
    • ‘I heard her sniff and looked up in time to see her wipe away tears from her own red eyes.’
    • ‘And without another word, and only a single sniff, she turned on her heel and began home, walking at first before she made her way onto the next street and broke into tears.’
    scorn, disdain, hold in disdain, show contempt for, be contemptuous of, regard with contempt, treat with contempt, hold in contempt, treat as inferior, be snobbish to, despise, look down on, heap scorn on, pour scorn on, sneer at, scoff at
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    1. 1.1 An amount of air or other substance taken up by sniffing.
      ‘his drug use was confined to a sniff of amyl nitrite’
      • ‘Everyone in the county will know someone who fits the bill - a middle aged man, living alone in the middle of rural Ireland, someone who doesn't look like he ever got so much as a sniff of a woman.’
      • ‘Once you're offered a sniff of a lucky break, be willing and reliable - if you keep turning down unpalatable shifts, don't expect them to keep offering work to you.’
      • ‘But you can definitely see some clubs having a bit of a sniff of him because the lad has a lot to offer.’
      • ‘They know what success is about and they have got a sniff of it again.’
      • ‘If there is a sniff of politics in deciding this issue I believe the electoral punishment for that side would be ruthless.’
      • ‘As yet, he has only received a sniff of interest from prospective new employers and continues to harbour hopes that he can prove his worth to the Minstermen in 2005-06.’
      • ‘Now, whether you seek our civilisation in religion, language, values, aesthetics or habits of thought, you get only a myth or a sniff of it, never the real thing.’
      • ‘It seems like the latter until the media gets a sniff of a racy story and the girls are suddenly on a roller coaster ride of global media attention.’
      • ‘She was a left-wing Labour parliamentary candidate long before her husband-to-be got a sniff of elected office.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘‘I came here for justice,’ she said, ‘but didn't get a sniff of it from him.’’
      • ‘The downside to this is that you turn into a cautionary cynic, not trusting anything that comes out of a publisher's mouth and avoiding anything with a sniff of hype.’
      • ‘To be fair, the resulting record didn't even have a sniff of desperation around it, but it remained a scrappy work from perhaps the one band most people considered to be absolutely bulletproof.’
      • ‘It didn't take much wandering to gather a large handful of the tiny light green leaves; just a sniff of them honed my hunger.’
      • ‘Maybe they'll get a sniff of it here, just north of the geographic center of the lower 48 states.’
      • ‘She heard his sniff of disbelief, but she didn't let that deter her.’
      • ‘He may now be saying he wants to spend more time with his young son, but come next season the sniff of liniment might become something he can't refuse.’
      smell, scent, whiff
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    2. 1.2informal in singular A hint or sign.
      ‘they're off at the first sniff of trouble’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘None gave a sniff of atmosphere or a hint of the third dimension of depth that is lacking in all televisual presentations.’
      indication, hint, intimation, whiff, inkling, suggestion, suspicion, whisper, trace, signal, sign, clue, gleam, wind
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    3. 1.3informal in singular A small chance.
      ‘the Olympic hosts will at least get a sniff at a medal’
      • ‘He didn't even get a sniff at the All-Century Team when he should have.’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘Nobody expected him to even get a sniff at the medals and, once again, he proved us all wrong.’
      • ‘It would have been a great opportunity just to get a sniff, a chance, that you could try and turn in to something much more.’
      • ‘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’
      • ‘It is a four horsepower steam engine which is the equivalent of about 44 horsepower as we know it today - not to be sniffed at at all!’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘A degree of caution in analysing the figures is certainly justified, but the government's record is not to be sniffed at.’
      • ‘If the message is one of interdependence and kinship, then it's not to be sniffed at.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘That's not to be sniffed at in any shape or form, more especially at a time when our local unemployment figures remain unacceptably high.’
      • ‘A rent of £5,000 a year plus a share of the operating profits is a figure not to be sniffed at by hard-pressed churches.’
      • ‘They organised games and refreshments and raised money as well, which is not to be sniffed at.’
      • ‘The value of good marketing 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.