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From Middle English smellen, smillen, smyllen, smullen, from Old English *smyllan, *smiellan ‎(to smell, emit fumes), from Proto-Germanic *smuljaną, *smaljaną ‎(to glow, burn, smoulder), from Proto-Indo-European *smelə- ‎(to burn, smoke, smoulder; tar, pitch). The noun is from Middle English smel, smil, smul ‎(smell, odour). Related to Middle Dutch smōlen ‎(to burn, smoulder) (whence Dutch smeulen ‎(to smoulder)), Middle Low German smölen ‎(to be hazy, be dusty) (whence Low German smölen ‎(smoulder)), Low German smullen ‎(emit smoke), West Flemish smoel ‎(stuffy, muggy, hazy), Danish smul ‎(dust, powder), Lithuanian smilkyti ‎(to incense, fumigate), Lithuanian smilkti ‎(to smudge, smolder, fume, reek), Lithuanian smalkinti ‎(to fume), Middle Irish smál, smól, smúal ‎(fire, gleed, embers, ashes), Russian смола́ ‎(smolá, resin, tar). Compare smoulder, smother.



smell ‎(countable and uncountable, plural smells)

  1. A sensation, pleasant or unpleasant, detected by inhaling air (or, the case of water-breathing animals, water) carrying airborne molecules of a substance.
    I love the smell of fresh bread.
    • 1908, Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
      The penetrating smell of cabbage reached the nose of Toad as he lay prostrate in his misery on the floor, and gave him the idea for a moment that perhaps life was not such a blank and desperate thing as he had imagined. But still he wailed, and kicked with his legs, and refused to be comforted. So the wise girl retired for the time, but, of course, a good deal of the smell of hot cabbage remained behind, as it will do, and Toad, between his sobs, sniffed and reflected, and gradually began to think new and inspiring thoughts: of chivalry, and poetry...
  2. (physiology) The sense that detects odours.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Adjectives often applied to "smell": sweet, good, nice, great, pleasant, fresh, fragrant, bad, foul, unpleasant, horrible, terrible, awful, nasty, disgusting, funny, strange, odd, sour, funky, metallic, stinky, rotten, rancid, putrid, rank, fishy.




smell ‎(third-person singular simple present smells, present participle smelling, simple past and past participle smelled or smelt)

  1. (transitive) To sense a smell or smells.
    I can smell fresh bread.
    Smell the milk and tell me whether it's gone off.
  2. (intransitive) To have a particular smell, whether good or bad; if descriptive, followed by "like" or "of".
    The roses smell lovely.
    His feet smell of cheese.
    The drunkard smelt like a brewery.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 8, Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      Philander went into the next room [] and came back with a salt mackerel [] . Next he put the mackerel in a fry-pan, and the shanty began to smell like a Banks boat just in from a v'yage.
  3. (intransitive, without a modifier) To smell bad; to stink.
    You smell.
  4. (intransitive, figuratively) To have a particular tincture or smack of any quality; to savour.
    A report smells of calumny.
    • John Milton
      Praises in an enemy are superfluous, or smell of craft.
  5. (obsolete) To exercise sagacity.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Shakespeare to this entry?)
  6. To detect or perceive; often with out.
    • Shakespeare
      I smell a device.
  7. (obsolete) To give heed to.
    • Latimer
      From that time forward I began to smell the Word of God, and forsook the school doctors.

Usage notes[edit]

The sense "to smell bad, stink" is considered by some to be an incorrect substitute for stink.


  • (sense a smell or smells): detect, sense
  • (have the smell of): (all followed by like or of)


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

Derived terms[edit]

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