Meaning of “smell” in the English Dictionary

"smell" in British English

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smellverb

uk /smel/ us /smel/ smelled or UK also smelt, smelled or UK smelt

smell verb (CHARACTERISTIC)

B1 [ I, L only + adj ] to have a particular quality that others can notice with their noses:

My hands smell of onions.
That cake smells good.
There's something in the fridge that smells mouldy.
Your feet smell (= have an unpleasant smell). Why don't you wash them?

More examples

  • Those toilets smell foul!
  • This milk smells funny.
  • You smell lovely - what's your perfume?
  • He always smells of cigarettes.
  • My armpits were starting to smell.

smell verb (DISCOVER)

B1 [ T ] to notice or discover something using the nose:

Come and smell these flowers!
Can you smell something burning?
[ + (that) ] Didn't you smell (that) the pie was burning?
I can smell something rotten in the bottom of the fridge.

[ T ] informal to know about or be aware of a situation without having to be told about it:

Brenda can smell trouble a mile off (= a long time in advance).

More examples

  • I could smell smoke on the night air.
  • I can smell onions cooking.
  • Smell this perfume.
  • I could smell alcohol on his breath.
  • Can you smell gas?

smell verb (ABILITY)

B2 [ I ] to have the ability to notice or discover that a substance is present by using your nose:

Humans can't smell as well as dogs.
What I hate most about having a cold is not being able to smell.

More examples

  • My nose is blocked so I can't smell.
  • If you can't smell, your ability to taste is also impaired.
  • It feels so unnatural not to be able to smell.
  • Not being able to smell has its advantages.
  • Many animals are able to smell better than humans.

smellnoun

uk /smel/ us /smel/

smell noun (CHARACTERISTIC)

B1 [ C ] the characteristic of something that can be recognized or noticed using the nose:

What's your favourite smell?
I love the smell of orange blossoms.
The marketplace was filled with delightful smells.
There's a delicious smell in here.
I wish we could get rid of that smell (= bad smell) in the bathroom.
the smell of sth literary

the particular character or feeling that someone or something has:

She's still enjoying the sweet smell (= pleasant experience) of success after her victory in the world championships.

More examples

  • the smell of decaying meat
  • The delicious smell of freshly-made coffee came from the kitchen.
  • There was an unpleasant smell coming from the drains.
  • What's that horrible smell?
  • The smell of hospitals always makes my stomach turn.

smell noun (ABILITY)

B2 [ U ] the ability to notice or discover that a substance is present by using your nose:

Smell is one of the five senses.
Dogs have a very good sense of smell.

More examples

  • Sharks have a highly developed sense of smell.
  • She has a very keen sense of smell.
  • As you get older you tend to lose your sense of smell.
  • He has a very poor sense of smell.
  • Pregnancy can change your sense of smell.
-smelling
suffix uk / -smel.ɪŋ/ / -smel.ɪŋ/

sweet-smelling flowers
foul-smelling rubbish

(Definition of “smell” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"smell" in American English

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smellnoun

us /smel/

smell noun (ABILITY)

[ U ] the ability to notice or discover a substance in the air by using the nose:

Smell is one of the five senses.
Dogs have a very good sense of smell.

smell noun (CHARACTERISTIC)

[ C ] the characteristic of something that can be recognized or noticed using the nose:

the smell of flowers/perfume/coffee/paint
I woke up to the smell of bacon and eggs.
I wish we could get rid of that smell in the garage.

smell noun (DISCOVERY)

[ U ] the act of using your nose to discover the characteristic of a substance in the air:

Have a smell of this thyme.

smellverb

us /smel/

smell verb (DISCOVER)

[ T ] to become aware of or to discover something using the nose:

Just smell this perfume!
She smelled something burning.
fig. Brenda can smell trouble a mile off. (= knows when there will be trouble.)

smell verb (USE ABILITY)

[ I/T ] to have the ability to notice or discover a substance in the air by using your nose:

[ T ] I have a cold and I can’t smell anything.

smell verb (HAVE CHARACTERISTIC)

to have a particular quality that people can notice with their noses:

[ I ] My hands smell of onions.
[ I ] It smells like you’ve been baking in here.
[ L ] That soup smells good.
[ I ] Your feet smell (= have an unpleasant smell).

(Definition of “smell” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

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