75-Words That Describe Smells

75 Words That Describe Smells


Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource. This post is about how writers could and should use words that describe smells.

Great writers use the five senses when they write. They make their stories real by allowing us to experience what their characters see, smell, hear, taste, and touch.

Using the senses is one of the best ways for writers to learn how to show and not tell.

I have written about words that describe taste, and touch, and sound in previous posts. In this post, I am writing about words that describe smells.

About Smell

A smell is ‘the pleasant or unpleasant quality of something that you notice when you breathe in through your nose’. To smell is ‘to notice or recognise the smell of something’.

The Power Of Smell

Smell is one of the most powerful senses. It can transport us back in time in a moment. The sense of smell is more closely linked with memory than any of the other senses. It also evokes emotions. Smell is one of the most important reasons people are attracted to each other.  It is also one of our most important survival mechanisms. A bad smell warns us that we are in danger, for example, when we smell smoke or rotten food.

Writing Tip

Because of this power, writers can use the sense of smell to show a character’s background, or to move a plot forward.

Quite Interesting:

  1. You can say ‘I smelled’ or ‘I smelt’ if you are using the past tense of the verb. ‘Smelt’ is more commonly used in British spelling and ‘smelled’ is used in US spelling.
  2. If you lose your sense of smell you can feel isolated and cut-off from the world. The loss of the sense of smell can ‘affect one’s ability to form and maintain close personal relationships and can lead to depression’.

General Words Describing Smells

Use these words that describe smells when you are setting a scene.

  1. anosmic – odourless, no smell at all
  2. antiseptic – clean or pure smell that is bland an characterless
  3. aroma – a smell that is strong but pleasant
  4. comforting – pleasant aroma
  5. delicate – subtle, faint, smell that is not overpowering
  6. evocative – a smell that makes you think of something, often something that you experienced in the past
  7. faint – a smell that is not strong
  8. fragrance – a sweet or pleasant odour
  9. heady – strongly aromatic, pungent, rich, intoxicating, spicy, piquant – not a mild smell
  10. heavy – a sweet and strong smell
  11. intoxicating – A smell that exhilarates, disorients, or excites
  12. laden – a literary word that describes a strong smell
  13. odour/odor (US spelling) – a smell
  14. odorous – a strong smell
  15. odourless – with no smell
  16. piquant – stinging, pungent, an aroma that tickles the nose.
  17. powerful –  a strong smell
  18. redolent – smelling of something
  19. reek – to smell strongly and unpleasantly
  20. scent – a particular smell, especially a pleasant one
  21. whiff – a slight smell of something

Words That Describe Unpleasant Smells

  1. acrid – a smell that is strong, bitter, and unpleasant in your nose and throat
  2. damp – a wet smell
  3. fetid – an unpleasant smell, usually caused by decay
  4. frowsty – an unpleasant smell caused by a lack of fresh air
  5. funky – a strong and unpleasant smell
  6. fusty – smells old, dusty, or damp
  7. high – an old-fashioned word that describes a strong flavour and smell
  8. malodorous – scented, aromatic, redolent, fragrant, stinking.
  9. musty – unpleasant, stale, and not fresh
  10. nasty – unpleasant smell
  11. nauseating – a smell that causes disgust, loathing, or revulsion
  12. noisome – extremely unpleasant, especially because of being very dirty or having a bad smell
  13. overpowering  – very strong smell
  14. pungent – a smell that is strong and sharp
  15. putrid – decaying and smelling very bad
  16. rancid – rancid food is no longer fresh and has an unpleasant smell
  17. rank – a strong unpleasant smell or taste
  18. ripe – a strong or unpleasant smell
  19. sickly – makes you feel sick
  20. smelly – an unpleasant smell
  21. sour – a taste or smell that is no longer fresh
  22. stale – not fresh or pleasant
  23. stench  – a very bad smell, especially of decay
  24. stinking – an unpleasant smell
  25. stuffy – a smell caused by an area with no fresh air in it

Words That Describe Pleasant Smells

  1. ambrosial – sweet smelling, fragrant, aromatic
  2. aromatic – perfumed, fragrant, scented, sweet smelling, pungent, usually pleasing
  3. bouquet – the particular smell of a wine or flower
  4. delicious – a pleasant smell
  5. fresh – a pleasant, newly made smell that can be clean, clear, cool, crisp, refreshing, sweet, warm
  6. fragrant – with a pleasant smell
  7. perfumed – pleasant to smell because perfume has been added or used, or it has a natural perfume
  8. rich – a smell that is strong in a pleasant way
  9. savoury/savory (US Spelling) – pleasant to  taste – spicy, pungent, flavoursome, and aromatic, salty but not sweet
  10. scented – a pleasant smell
  11. sweet  – a pleasant smell that is sweet
  12. tangy – a smell or taste that is strong and bitter in a pleasant way

Words That Smell Like Something

  1. citrusy – characteristic of citrus fruit in scent
  2. coppery – smelling of copper
  3. earthy – smelling like earth
  4. fishy – smelling like fish
  5. floral – smelling of flowers
  6. flowery – a flowery smell reminds you of flowers
  7. fruity – smelling like fruit
  8. gamy – having the distinctive fragrance of game
  9. garlicky – smelling of garlic
  10. leathery – smells like leather
  11. lemony – smells like lemon
  12. medicinal – smells like medicine
  13. minty – smelling of mint
  14. musky – similar to musk in smell
  15. peachy – similar to a peach in colour, taste, or smell
  16. smoky – smelling of smoke
  17. woody – an earthy smell, smelling of wood

Top Tip: Find out more about our Writing Courses. If you want to learn how to write, join us in Johannesburg or sign up for our online courses.

 by Amanda Patterson

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. 106 Ways To Describe Sounds
  2. 20 Words Used To Describe Specific Tastes And Flavours
  3. 209 Words To Describe Touch
  4. Three Simple Ways To Show And Not Tell
  5. 12 Crucial Things To Remember About Setting
  6. Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language
  7. 20 Fun Ways To Find An Idea For A Plot
  8. Where Should You Begin Your Memoir?
  9. Use These 7 Gaslighting Phrases To Make Your Antagonist More Manipulative

Sources:
https://www.macmillandictionary.com/thesaurus-category/british/smelling-unpleasant
https://www.macmillandictionary.com/thesaurus-category/british/pleasant-smells
https://www.macmillandictionary.com/thesaurus-category/british/smelling-like-a-particular-thing
https://www.macmillandictionary.com/thesaurus-category/british/describing-smells-and-lack-of-smell
https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/style-and-usage/descriptive-words-for-scents.html
https://world-food-and-wine.com/describing-aroma

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