Definition of sniff in English:



  • 1 Draw 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’
    • ‘Surreptitiously, he sniffed at it as he raised it to his lips, then took a small sip.’
    • ‘She sniffed wearily at the smell of smoke, sweat and beery farts and opened the window.’
    • ‘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 two mongrel dogs skulked to her side and sniffed at the hem of her dress.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Angel sniffed at my hand, then climbed up my arm and started sniffing at my face.’
    • ‘She slowly sat up, sniffing and wiping her nose with a hand, happy anyway.’
    • ‘His large snout sniffed at the air, and he bowed graciously, his large ears flopping.’
    • ‘Nothing will stop him trying to sniff out chances.’
    • ‘Five years ago we just would not even have sniffed at those awards.’
    • ‘The girl sniffed at them and swept off to find someone less boyish to play with.’
    • ‘The smaller one picked them up, sniffed at them, and then glanced around suspiciously.’
    • ‘His mother passed him a cup of tea, which he sniffed at suspiciously.’
    • ‘A hairless hand scooped the slabs up and raised them to the face as the creature sniffed at the steaks.’
    • ‘The predator sniffed at her prey once more, suddenly doubting that she had caught a genuine mate.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘They picked up items that lay strewn across the small control panel and sniffed at them.’
    • ‘He picked it up, sniffed at it, and brought it as close to his eye as he could.’
    • ‘The dog sniffed at each of them in turn, wagged his huge tail, and gave a booming bark of satisfaction.’
    • ‘He sniffed at the plate, determining by scent in which sequence to push the buttons.’
    inhale, snuffle, breathe in
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1[with object]Draw in (a scent, substance, or air) through the nose.
      ‘Miranda sniffed the heavy perfume of the lilies’
      • ‘I sniffed the air; I couldn't pick up any scents that were out of place.’
      • ‘There's another network that will be sniffing the air for radioactive particles.’
      • ‘The wolf turned his head as he sniffed the air, catching the scent of man in his nostrils.’
      • ‘The thing entered the room and looked around, sniffing the air for the scent of what he was after.’
      • ‘It was perched on the edge of one of the counters, sniffing the air with its tiny blue nose.’
      • ‘The dog leapt from the sidecar sniffing the air and ground for any sign of the vampiress.’
      • ‘He pulled back the piece of cloth that swathed his sunburnt head, and sniffed the air.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Joe's collie dog got up from her basket under the table and joined him at the door, sniffing the air.’
      • ‘He then progressed to sitting outside on the back doorstep, sniffing the air and surveying the territory.’
      • ‘He sniffs the air, and catches a million faint scents no one else on the planet can detect.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He leaned over the pot and sniffed appreciatively as the smell of lamb reached his pointed nose.’
      • ‘He brought the wet clump of earth to his nose and sniffed at it.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He sniffs the air and finds the scent of the pizza.’
      • ‘The snow tiger seemed edgy, and she sniffed the air as if searching for something.’
    2. 1.2informal Investigate covertly, especially in an attempt to find out confidential or incriminating information about someone.
      ‘a couple of journalists are sniffing around’
      • ‘As soon as I started applying it, she came sniffing around into my general vicinity, trying to track down the scent.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He sniffed around in an attempt to find something to do, as his mistress was still asleep.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘They continued walking until they disappeared behind the back edge of the pond, sniffing around looking for something to eat.’
      • ‘In order to avoid charges of heresy (the Inquisition were always sniffing around him), Nostradamus wrote in a deliberately vague and obscure manner.’
      • ‘The Federal Trade Commission is again sniffing around the video game industry, this time for data on sales of mature-themed games to minors.’
      • ‘I'd say she should start sniffing around for a wife.’
    3. 1.3informal [with object]Discover something by investigation.
      ‘he made millions sniffing out tax loopholes for companies’
      • ‘His guarantee of service includes a promise to reconnect your pirated line after cable officials sniff it out.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Second, while crooked execs may have fooled analysts, the media, and the public, the market sniffed them 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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She can sniff them out like a pig finding truffles.’
      • ‘The second reason it's difficult to be happy is that we think we can measure happiness, or sniff it out like truffles.’
      • ‘The dog had actually sniffed it out from under some leaves.’


  • 1An act or sound of sniffing.

    ‘he gave a sniff of disapproval’
    • ‘The muffled sounds of sniffs and small sobs could barely be heard through the door.’
    • ‘A loud sniff resounded in the room and I snickered.’
    • ‘The sounds of her occasional sniffs could be heard.’
    • ‘She didn't answer him, another desolate sniff sounding instead.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘We sat there for a few minutes in silence, the only sound was of my sniffs and whimpers as I tried to stop crying.’
    • ‘An easier life-lesson would be greatly appreciated, she thought while sounding a sniff.’
    • ‘Slowly, her wails subsided, and turned into quiet sniffs.’
    • ‘‘I've caught somesing,’ she replied then interrupted with a loud sniff.’
    • ‘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 soft kid slippers she wore on her feet made a sound like short quick sniffs.’
    • ‘The lady carefully pouted, and gave a loud sniff.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Her sweet tears dribbled down my face as her sniffs turned to heartfelt sobs.’
    • ‘With a loud sniff, Laura rose from the bed and walked into the kitchen.’
    • ‘The sound of an occasional sniff twisted the pain even deeper.’
    • ‘He was answered with what sounded like a sniff and a smothered sob.’
    • ‘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
    turn one's nose up at, look down one's nose at
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1An amount of air or other substance taken up by sniffing.
      ‘his drug use was confined to a sniff of amyl nitrite’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He look a deep sniff of the substance and smiled.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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 didn't take much wandering to gather a large handful of the tiny light green leaves; just a sniff of them honed my hunger.’
      • ‘But you can definitely see some clubs having a bit of a sniff of him because the lad has a lot to offer.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Maybe they'll get a sniff of it here, just north of the geographic center of the lower 48 states.’
      • ‘‘I came here for justice,’ she said, ‘but didn't get a sniff of it from him.’’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She was a left-wing Labour parliamentary candidate long before her husband-to-be got a sniff of elected office.’
    2. 1.2informal [in singular]A hint or sign.
      ‘they're off at the first sniff of trouble’
      • ‘None gave a sniff of atmosphere or a hint of the third dimension of depth that is lacking in all televisual presentations.’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘Watching people sniff suspiciously at our currency has become, in this household at any rate, a family sport.’
    3. 1.3informal [in singular]A small chance.
      ‘the Olympic hosts will at least get a sniff at a medal’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘He didn't even get a sniff at the All-Century Team when he should have.’
      • ‘These players won't get a sniff at England's World Cup squad.’
      • ‘Nobody expected him to even get a sniff at the medals and, once again, he proved us all wrong.’


  • not to be sniffed at

    • informal Worth having, accepting, or taking into account.

      ‘the price is 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.’
      • ‘If the message is one of interdependence and kinship, then it's not to be sniffed at.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘A degree of caution in analysing the figures is certainly justified, but the government's record 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!’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’


Middle English: imitative.