[ smel ]
See synonyms for: smellsmelledsmellingsmells on

verb (used with object),smelled or smelt, smell·ing.
  1. to perceive the odor or scent of through the nose by means of the olfactory nerves; inhale the odor of: I smell something burning.

  2. to test by the sense of smell: She smelled the meat to see if it was fresh.

  1. to perceive, detect, or discover by shrewdness or sagacity: The detective smelled foul play.

verb (used without object),smelled or smelt, smell·ing.
  1. to perceive something by its odor or scent.

  2. to search or investigate (followed by around or about).

  1. to give off or have an odor or scent: Do the yellow roses smell?

  2. to give out an offensive odor; stink.

  3. to have a particular odor (followed by of): My hands smell of fish.

  4. to have a trace or suggestion (followed by of).

  5. Informal. to be of inferior quality; stink: The play is good, but the direction smells.

  6. Informal. to have the appearance or a suggestion of guilt or corruption: They may be honest, but the whole situation smells.

  1. the sense of smell; faculty of smelling.

  2. the quality of a thing that is or may be smelled; odor; scent.

  1. a trace or suggestion.

  2. an act or instance of smelling.

  3. a pervading appearance, character, quality, or influence: the smell of money.

Verb Phrases
  1. smell out, to look for or detect as if by smelling; search out: to smell out enemy spies.

  2. smell up, to fill with an offensive odor; stink up: The garbage smelled up the yard.

Idioms about smell

  1. smell a rat. rat (def. 6).

Origin of smell

First recorded in 1125–75; early Middle English smell, smull (noun), smellen,smullen (verb); origin uncertain.

synonym study For smell

13. See odor.

Other words from smell

  • smell·a·ble, adjective
  • smell-less, adjective
  • outsmell, verb (used with object), out·smelled or out·smelt, out·smel·ling.
  • un·smelled, adjective
  • un·smell·ing, adjective

Words Nearby smell Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use smell in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for smell


/ (smɛl) /

verbsmells, smelling, smelt or smelled
  1. (tr) to perceive the scent or odour of (a substance) by means of the olfactory nerves

  2. (copula) to have a specified smell; appear to the sense of smell to be: the beaches smell of seaweed; some tobacco smells very sweet

  1. (intr often foll by of) to emit an odour (of): the park smells of flowers

  2. (intr) to emit an unpleasant odour; stink

  3. (tr often foll by out) to detect through shrewdness or instinct

  4. (intr) to have or use the sense of smell; sniff

  5. (intr foll by of) to give indications (of): he smells of money

  6. (intr; foll by around, about, etc) to search, investigate, or pry

  7. (copula) to be or seem to be untrustworthy or corrupt

  8. smell a rat to detect something suspicious

  1. that sense (olfaction) by which scents or odours are perceived: Related adjective: olfactory

  2. anything detected by the sense of smell; odour; scent

  1. a trace or indication

  2. the act or an instance of smelling

Origin of smell

C12: of uncertain origin; compare Middle Dutch smölen to scorch

Derived forms of smell

  • smeller, noun

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

Other Idioms and Phrases with smell


In addition to the idioms beginning with smell

  • smell a rat
  • smell fishy
  • smell to high heaven
  • smell up

also see:

  • come up (smelling like) roses
  • stink (smell) to high heaven

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.