• Smell


    • enPR: smĕl, IPA: /smɛl/
    • Rhymes: -ɛl


    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 German Low German smölen ("smoulder")), 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 смола (smola, "resin, tar"). Compare smoulder, smother.

    Full definition of 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 WillowsThe 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

    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.



    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, Mr. Pratt's Patients Chapter 8, 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, figurative) To have a particular tincture or smack of any quality; to savour.
      A report smells of calumny.
      • John MiltonPraises in an enemy are superfluous, or smell of craft.
    5. (obsolete) To exercise sagacity.
    6. To detect or perceive; often with out.
      • ShakespeareI smell a device.
    7. (obsolete) To give heed to.
      • LatimerFrom that time forward I began to smell the Word of God, and forsook the school doctors.

    Usage notes

    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)


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