[ reek ]
/ rik /
Save This Word!
See synonyms for: reek / reeking on Thesaurus.com

a strong, unpleasant smell.
vapor or steam.
verb (used without object)
verb (used with object)
to give off; emit; exude.
to expose to or treat with smoke.
Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Origin of reek

before 900; (noun) Middle English rek(e), Old English rēc smoke; cognate with German rauch,Dutch rook,Old Norse reykr; (v.) Middle English reken to smoke, steam, Old English rēocan


reeker, nounreek·ing·ly, adverbreeky, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What’s the difference between reek and wreak?

Reek most commonly means to give off a strong, unpleasant odor, as in Your socks reek, dude. Wreak means to inflict or carry out something, especially something harmful—it’s most commonly used in the phrase wreak havoc, meaning to cause chaos or destruction or both.

While wreak is only ever used as a verb, reek can also be used as a noun meaning a strong, unpleasant smell, though this use is much less common.

Reek usually functions without an object, though in some cases it is followed by the word of and the particular smell, as in It reeks of onions in here. This is also the case when reek is used in a more figurative way meaning to be penetrated or saturated with something negative, as in This case reeks of corruption.

Wreak is always used with an object, usually some negative effect, as in The storm is expected to wreak destruction throughout the region.

Reek and wreak are pronounced exactly the same, so it can be hard to remember which one is which, but you can remember that wreak begins with a w because it is often used in the context of things getting wrecked.

Here’s an example of reek and wreak used correctly in the same sentence.

Example: I like cooking with leeks, but my wife thinks they reek and says they wreak havoc on her ability to smell anything else.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between reeking and wreaking.

Quiz yourself on reek vs. wreak!

Should reek or wreak be used in the following sentence?

Don’t spray me with that stuff—I don’t want to _____ of cheap cologne!

How to use reek in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for reek

/ (riːk) /

(intr) to give off or emit a strong unpleasant odour; smell or stink
(intr often foll by of) to be permeated (by); be redolent (of)the letter reeks of subservience
(tr) to treat with smoke; fumigate
(tr) mainly dialect to give off or emit (smoke, fumes, vapour, etc)
a strong offensive smell; stink
mainly dialect smoke or steam; vapour

Derived forms of reek

reeking, adjectivereekingly, adverbreeky, adjective

Word Origin for reek

Old English rēocan; related to Old Frisian riāka to smoke, Old High German rouhhan, Old Norse rjūka to smoke, steam
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012