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See more synonyms for sniff on Thesaurus.com
verb (used without object)
  1. to draw air through the nose in short, audible inhalations.
  2. to clear the nose by so doing; sniffle.
  3. to smell by short inhalations.
  4. to show disdain, contempt, etc., by or as by sniffing.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to perceive by or as by smelling: to sniff a scandal.
  2. to inhale through the nose: to sniff the air.
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  1. an act of sniffing; a single, short, audible inhalation.
  2. the sound made by such an act.
  3. a scent or odor perceived: a sniff of perfume.
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Origin of sniff

1300–50; Middle English; back formation from snivel
Related formssniff·ing·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for sniffing


  1. to inhale through the nose, usually in short rapid audible inspirations, as for the purpose of identifying a scent, for clearing a congested nasal passage, or for taking a drug or intoxicating fumes
  2. (when intr, often foll by at) to perceive or attempt to perceive (a smell) by inhaling through the nose
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  1. the act or sound of sniffing
  2. a smell perceived by sniffing, esp a faint scent
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Derived Formssniffing, noun, adjective

Word Origin

C14: probably related to snivelen to snivel
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

Word Origin and History for sniffing



mid-14c., of imitative origin; possibly related to snyvelen (see snivel). As an expression of scorn or contempt from 1729. As a synonym for smell (v.) it dates from 1845. In reference to cocaine from 1925. Related: Sniffed; sniffing.

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1767, from sniff (v.); the scornful sense is from 1859.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper