a. The sense, located in the nasal cavities of mammals and relying on the olfactory nerves, by which molecules borne in a fluid such as air can be perceived; the olfactory sense.
b. A similar sense in other animals, as insects' ability to perceive air-borne molecules with their antennae.
2. The act or an instance of smelling: got a smell of the pie.
a. A quality of something that is perceived by the sense of smell; an odor: the smell of a barn.
b. A distinctive enveloping or characterizing quality; an aura or trace: the smell of success.
v. smelled or smelt (smĕlt), smell·ing, smells
a. To perceive (an odor) by the sense of smell.
b. To perceive or detect (something) by a chemosensory organ, such as an antenna.
2. To inhale the air near (something); sniff: smiled as she smelled the rose.
3. To detect or discover, as by intuition or inference: We smelled trouble ahead. The committee tried to smell out corruption in law enforcement.
1. To use the sense of smell.
2. To sniff: The dog was smelling around the bed.
a. To have or emit an odor: "The breeze smelled exactly like Vouvray—flowery, with a hint of mothballs underneath" (Anne Tyler).
b. To have or emit an unpleasant odor; stink: This closet smells.
a. To be suggestive; have a touch of something: a remark that smells of sanctimony.
b. To appear to be dishonest or corrupt: The political situation is starting to smell.
smell a rat Slang
To suspect that something is wrong.
To sense an opportunity for advantage at someone else's expense.
smell the roses
To spend time in leisurely enjoyment.
[Middle English smel, of unknown origin.]
Synonyms: smell, aroma, odor, scent
These nouns denote a quality that can be perceived by the olfactory sense: the smell of smoke; the aroma of frying onions; hospital odors; the scent of pine needles.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus