Definition of smell in US English:



  • 1The faculty or power of perceiving odors or scents by means of the organs in the nose.

    ‘a highly developed sense of smell’
    ‘dogs locate the bait by smell’
    • ‘It's hard to breathe, your nose drips constantly and your sense of smell just isn't what it used to be.’
    • ‘Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease can make people lose their sense of smell.’
    • ‘Yes, lobsters' small antennae work like the human nose, only the crustaceans' sense of smell is keener.’
    • ‘Smoking can also affect your breathing, taste and sense of smell.’
    • ‘Deer are extremely cautious animals with keen senses of smell and hearing.’
    • ‘Some women find that they have an enhanced sense of smell and are more sensitive to odors during pregnancy.’
    • ‘She loved her sharp sense of hearing, her sharp sense of smell, her sharp vision, and her sharp claws.’
    • ‘These animals track their prey using their excellent sense of smell, eyesight, and hearing.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Wild cats have a well developed sense of smell and hearing.’
    • ‘Hummingbirds don't have much sense of smell, so the scent of the herbs won't deter them from seeking nectar from their blossoms.’
    • ‘Advancing age is also associated with a decrease in the basal metabolic rate, as well as changes in the senses of taste and smell.’
    • ‘But if you're eating leaves, smell becomes less important than vision.’
    • ‘Cigarette smoking by itself does not cause complete loss of the sense of smell.’
    • ‘Humans may have two nostrils, but these don't necessarily share the same sense of smell.’
    • ‘According to a recent report in Nature, differing airflow in the right and left nostrils results in different perceptions of smell.’
    • ‘In order to perceive the smell of a grapefruit, our sense of smell only requires just two molecules, the chemical eye needs hundreds if not thousands to stick to its gold chips.’
    • ‘Because dogs have a very high sense of smell, they were able to detect minute quantities of the organic compounds produced by tumors.’
    • ‘All anteaters have an excellent sense of smell; sight and hearing are not as well developed.’
    • ‘The patient should be asked about the use of tobacco or cocaine, because these substances can adversely affect the sense of smell.’
    1. 1.1 A quality in something that is perceived by the faculty of smell; an odor or scent.
      ‘lingering kitchen smells’
      ‘a smell of coffee’
      • ‘The smells of coffee and frying bacon teased his appetite as he looked around studying the scene.’
      • ‘As I opened the door to the kitchen, the wonderful smells of Christmas baking met my nose, and I wanted just to sit down and enjoy it for hours on end.’
      • ‘I felt the cold ocean breeze blow across my face, filling my nose with the salty smell of the ocean.’
      • ‘Putrid smells of raw sewage and burning garbage become acceptable after being exposed to these foul scents for a long enough time.’
      • ‘You can fry these a little in advance if you really do not want oily smells lingering.’
      • ‘As we were driving down these terrible, lumpy, unlit streets we were constantly catching whiffs of different smells.’
      • ‘The restaurant itself came with the scents and smells of peppers and other spices.’
      • ‘Today's the day for refuse collection where I live, and the miasma of smells and stench from the bins was like wading through a marsh this morning.’
      • ‘And then, before I could get to working out another approach to the opening, rich fruity baking smells came wafting along from the kitchen and my working day was done.’
      • ‘Some people have hypersensitive skin and are allergic to various pollen, fragrant smells and sunlight.’
      • ‘Tara's nose tuned into smell of breakfast and decided to go downstairs to get a bite to eat.’
      • ‘Christmas morning came with the smells of pine from candles and coffee in the kitchen.’
      • ‘The air filled with the fragrant smells of the meadow.’
      • ‘It's full of the most wonderful sights and smells - stalls with cheap but high quality vegetables, meats and breads.’
      • ‘The workshop was full of the smells of freshly brewed coffee, hot metal and scorched cloth.’
      • ‘He followed me up the stairs into the lit up kitchen where the smells from dinner were still lingering.’
      • ‘I followed Shelia into the large kitchen; the smells made me hungry!’
      • ‘Sitting in the verandah, the separate smells of tomatoes, lemons and gourd reach me, and I know I will smell them again in my memory.’
      • ‘American breakfasts are a combination of all of the above: simple food, wholesome ingredients, frying, baking, sweet and savoury divine smells and lots of it.’
      • ‘He said the new silo would not affect the smells and odours from the premises, since it would be enclosed and would not alter the processes taking place at the plant.’
      odour, whiff
      aroma, fragrance, scent, perfume, redolence, tang, savour
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 An unpleasant odor.
      ‘twenty-seven cats lived there—you can imagine the smell!’
      • ‘It took us forever to figure out why we had a smell when we'd open certain upper cabinets in the kitchen.’
      • ‘My last apartment had a smell to it - though I have no idea why.’
      stench, stink, reek, fetidness, effluvium, miasma
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    3. 1.3in singular An act of inhaling in order to ascertain an odor or scent.
      ‘have a smell of this’
      • ‘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.’

verbsmelled, smelt

  • 1with object Perceive or detect the odor or scent of (something)

    ‘I think I can smell something burning’
    • ‘He could smell the intoxicating bubble-gum perfume as she neared him, and the scent lingered in the air long after she rushed by him.’
    • ‘From inside, I could hear the crackling of a fire and could smell the burning wood.’
    • ‘The mother of three owns a natural products shop in Oriental, N.C., but was unable to smell the fragrant herbs she sells.’
    • ‘Ian was not even to the seventh floor before he heard whispering voices and smelled food.’
    • ‘He could smell coffee and he heard someone unwrapping a burger.’
    • ‘I could smell the essence of perfume coming from her body, and when I touched her skin, it was incredibly soft and smooth.’
    • ‘I smelt the familiar cigarette odour as it attacked my nostrils, and clung on tighter.’
    • ‘I could hear fireworks, and smell the smoke from bonfires, and I fell asleep.’
    • ‘As our lunch table was set beside the rape fields and the river, we could smell rape flower perfume and feel the gentle breeze from the river.’
    • ‘He kissed the top of her head, smelling the sweet lavender scent of her shampoo.’
    • ‘I strode along the deck, letting the breeze blow my hair around and smelling the cool ocean scent.’
    • ‘I saw a flickering light and smelt the burning smoke of candle.’
    • ‘You can usually hear him swearing and smell the cigar smoke before he approaches.’
    • ‘Sure enough she was wearing her Sunday morning church dress, and all the way up on the landing, Troy could smell her mothers lilac perfume.’
    • ‘As we neared the dock I smelled the river and heard the soft rush of waves against the wood.’
    • ‘They would hear booms far out in the ocean, see the smoke or the nighttime glow of burning ships on the horizon, and smell burning fuel on the sea breeze.’
    • ‘I could still smell burning plastic, though when the wind was blowing.’
    • ‘It was then that Betty could have sworn she smelled a hint of perfume in the air and it didn't belong to her.’
    • ‘They smelled smoke and heard the crackling of the fast-moving fire.’
    • ‘He smelt her jasmine scented hair and played with it as he watched her sleep off the alcohol.’
    get a whiff of, scent, get a sniff of, detect the smell of
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Sniff at (something) in order to perceive or detect its odor or scent.
      ‘the dogs smell each other’
      • ‘We separated the cats into two separate rooms and let them smell each other under the door.’
      • ‘To introduce the cats, keep them separated for a few days, allowing them to smell each others bedding.’
      • ‘And the new initiatives are bomb sniffing dogs we are looking at, so can smell explosives hidden in containers.’
      • ‘If a dog indicates to its handler that it can smell an illicit substance, the officer can order an on-the-spot body search.’
      • ‘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
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2smell something out Detect or discover something by the faculty of smell.
      ‘his nose can smell out an animal from ten miles away’
      • ‘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.’
    3. 1.3 Detect 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’
      • ‘Even without any evidence he can smell out the truth.’
      • ‘We need people who have the skills to smell out somebody who comes along to try to fit us up - and I am talking about us, about Maori, as well.’
      • ‘Voters smell out opportunism from a long way off and don't like it.’
      • ‘The more I've thought about this one, the more it smells to me.’
      • ‘Lemond was unconvinced and believed, like many others, Hinault could smell a record sixth victory.’
      • ‘The National Party council could smell the trouble back then in December.’
      • ‘From a distance, it smells as if the national-security hoop-de-do about the Valerie Plame leak is exaggerated.’
      • ‘I'm open to being convinced it's not some politicians having hysterics, but so far, that's how it smells to me.’
  • 2no object Emit an odor or scent of a specified kind.

    with complement ‘the food smelled and tasted good’
    ‘it smelled like cough medicine’
    as adjective, in combination ‘pungent-smelling food’
    • ‘The highly effective, biodegradable stuff smells so fresh that it just might refine your sense of clean for good.’
    • ‘The vagrant, who was filthy and smelled like sewage, walked alongside the man and kept tugging at his elbow while demanding money.’
    • ‘He tasted it, because it sure smelled like bread, and then ate it.’
    • ‘It smelled like lavender, a smooth, calming scent, and I dumped it generously into the water.’
    • ‘I inhaled his scent, my face in his chest; he smelled like grass after it just finished raining.’
    • ‘I had never set foot in a courtroom before; it was cold and smelled like damp, musty wood.’
    • ‘Tonight she'd simply put a frozen pizza in the oven and taken it out when it smelled done.’
    • ‘The inside of the restaurant smelled like an odd mixture of pine trees and food.’
    • ‘In some cases, the vomited milk may smell curdled because it has mixed with stomach acid.’
    • ‘The passage Ruse had found was dark and damp and the air smelled like wet grass after it had rained hard for several days.’
    • ‘Its shape was that of a gull drawn by a child with a soft hand and sense of things aesthetic and it smelled lightly of sandalwood as he drew near us.’
    • ‘The hairdresser tied a cape around his shoulders, washed his hair with shampoo that smelled like peaches.’
    • ‘You poured in everything that was left of the geranium essence, until the room was warm and scented and smelled like an exotic hothouse.’
    • ‘He smelled like strawberries, an innocent summery scent that flooded over and through me, evoking memories and images of a time not so long gone.’
    • ‘But something else came with the earthy scent - something that smelled like smoke.’
    • ‘I knew because it smelled sterilized and everything was white and boring.’
    • ‘The room smelled like jasmine, and the scent didn't go away even when he'd opened the window earlier in the day.’
    • ‘Sometimes the air would smell polluted, but I guess that was because the neighborhood we were driving through lived near the dump.’
    • ‘Her hair smelled like the roses, and her scent was of lavender.’
    • ‘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.’
    1. 2.1 Have a strong or unpleasant odor.
      ‘if I don't get a bath soon I'll start to smell’
      ‘it smells in here’
      • ‘It smells in here, the toilet won't flush.’
      • ‘It smells here....after three weeks of fresh air, I really notice it.’
      • ‘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
      View synonyms
    2. 2.2 Appear in a certain way; be suggestive of something.
      ‘it smells like a hoax to me’
      • ‘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, appear like, seem like, have the air of, suggest
      View synonyms


  • smell blood

    • Discern weakness or vulnerability in an opponent.

      • ‘They smelled blood against a Dundee side notoriously fragile whenever there is the first sign of trouble and, displaying a bite they suddenly started to hunt down their opponents.’
      • ‘Oppositions always cry resign when they smell blood, merely because that's what Oppositions do.’
      • ‘But in both cases people from all quarters of the organizations smelled blood and came after leaders who they had long disliked.’
      • ‘The Tories will smell blood and be an effective opposition again at last.’
      • ‘Ignoring such figures would undoubtedly result in cabinet resignations as the likely leadership candidates, smelling blood, jockey for position.’
      • ‘But Hide enters the fray as soon as he smells blood on anyone.’
      • ‘And, within hours of the first setback of his Ibrox management, they are thrown face-to-face with a Celtic side which smells blood.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He smells blood now, and he wants a clearer victory.’
      • ‘His political adversaries are smelling blood.’
  • smell a rat

    • informal Suspect trickery or deception.

      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She received payment from Scottish Amicable Life and Scottish Widows, but the third insurance company, Century Life, which was due to pay the largest amount of £287,562, smelt a rat and put an investigator on the case.’
      • ‘I smelt a rat and therefore we want a judicial probe into the whole incident to unearth the truth ‘, he said.’’
      • ‘Neil smelt a rat and decided it was best not to proceed.’
      • ‘I only mention it in case you think you smell a rat, but I promise I have nothing to gain by singing its praises.’
      • ‘In fact the paintwork was so perfect, with not a single scratch despite being four years old, that we started to smell a rat.’
      • ‘As Bell was pathologically private about his past relationships, marriages and children, I smelt a rat, but it took me a while to recognise that the girl in the photograph he held out for me to look at was myself.’
      • ‘This is another reason for union leaders to smell a rat: it looks like this another attempt to privatize more city services.’
      • ‘They failed to smell a rat despite Baron Cohen's absurd questions.’
  • smell the roses

    • informal Enjoy or appreciate what is often ignored.

      • ‘But bloody hell that girl has to wake up and smell the roses.’
      • ‘Well, I suggest he wakes up and smells the roses, because that will not happen under this bill, and certainly not under Part 3.’
      • ‘It's important to take time out once in a while to enjoy the fruits of one's labours, smell the roses and enjoy.’
      • ‘Those council members who stated staff was not to be considered need to wake up and smell the roses.’
      • ‘But of course, now that I'm a woman smelling the roses, living my own life, I won't talk to you a lot about it.’
      • ‘What I am trying to say to these certain Sligo businessmen is, wake up and smell the roses!’
      • ‘All things considered, though, it's time to stop, take a look around, and smell the roses (or newsprint, as the case may be).’
      • ‘So please wake up, read the tea leaves, smell the roses, act and fight for your own cause.’
      • ‘If anyone is bashing what it has achieved, they really should wake up and smell the roses.’
      • ‘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.’
  • smell something up

    • Permeate an area with a bad smell.

      ‘he smelled up the whole house’


Middle English: of unknown origin.