Writers know that using the senses is a great way to make stories come alive. 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. We also have a post on words that describe colours. In this post, I am writing about words that describe smells.
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- anosmic – odourless, no smell at all
- antiseptic – clean or pure smell that is bland an characterless
- aroma – a smell that is strong but pleasant
- comforting – pleasant aroma
- delicate – subtle, faint, smell that is not overpowering
- evocative – a smell that makes you think of something, often something that you experienced in the past
- faint – a smell that is not strong
- fragrance – a sweet or pleasant odour
- heady – strongly aromatic, pungent, rich, intoxicating, spicy, piquant – not a mild smell
- heavy – a sweet and strong smell
- intoxicating – A smell that exhilarates, disorients, or excites
- laden – a literary word that describes a strong smell
- odour/odor (US spelling) – a smell
- odorous – a strong smell
- odourless – with no smell
- piquant – stinging, pungent, an aroma that tickles the nose.
- powerful – a strong smell
- redolent – smelling of something
- reek – to smell strongly and unpleasantly
- scent – a particular smell, especially a pleasant one
- whiff – a slight smell of something
Words That Describe Unpleasant Smells
- acrid – a smell that is strong, bitter, and unpleasant in your nose and throat
- damp – a wet smell
- fetid – an unpleasant smell, usually caused by decay
- frowsty – an unpleasant smell caused by a lack of fresh air
- funky – a strong and unpleasant smell
- fusty – smells old, dusty, or damp
- high – an old-fashioned word that describes a strong flavour and smell
- malodorous – scented, aromatic, redolent, fragrant, stinking.
- musty – unpleasant, stale, and not fresh
- nasty – unpleasant smell
- nauseating – a smell that causes disgust, loathing, or revulsion
- noisome – extremely unpleasant, especially because of being very dirty or having a bad smell
- overpowering – very strong smell
- pungent – a smell that is strong and sharp
- putrid – decaying and smelling very bad
- rancid – rancid food is no longer fresh and has an unpleasant smell
- rank – a strong unpleasant smell or taste
- ripe – a strong or unpleasant smell
- sickly – makes you feel sick
- smelly – an unpleasant smell
- sour – a taste or smell that is no longer fresh
- stale – not fresh or pleasant
- stench – a very bad smell, especially of decay
- stinking – an unpleasant smell
- stuffy – a smell caused by an area with no fresh air in it
Words That Describe Pleasant Smells
- ambrosial – sweet smelling, fragrant, aromatic
- aromatic – perfumed, fragrant, scented, sweet smelling, pungent, usually pleasing
- bouquet – the particular smell of a wine or flower
- delicious – a pleasant smell
- fresh – a pleasant, newly made smell that can be clean, clear, cool, crisp, refreshing, sweet, warm
- fragrant – with a pleasant smell
- perfumed – pleasant to smell because perfume has been added or used, or it has a natural perfume
- rich – a smell that is strong in a pleasant way
- savoury/savory (US Spelling) – pleasant to taste – spicy, pungent, flavoursome, and aromatic, salty but not sweet
- scented – a pleasant smell
- sweet – a pleasant smell that is sweet
- tangy – a smell or taste that is strong and bitter in a pleasant way
Words That Smell Like Something
- citrusy – characteristic of citrus fruit in scent
- coppery – smelling of copper
- earthy – smelling like earth
- fishy – smelling like fish
- floral – smelling of flowers
- flowery – a flowery smell reminds you of flowers
- fruity – smelling like fruit
- gamy – having the distinctive fragrance of game
- garlicky – smelling of garlic
- leathery – smells like leather
- lemony – smells like lemon
- medicinal – smells like medicine
- minty – smelling of mint
- musky – similar to musk in smell
- peachy – similar to a peach in colour, taste, or smell
- smoky – smelling of smoke
- woody – an earthy smell, smelling of wood
Top Tip: Find out more about our Writing Courses.
© Amanda Patterson
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- 209 Words To Describe Touch
- Three Simple Ways To Show And Not Tell
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- Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language
- 20 Fun Ways To Find An Idea For A Plot
- Where Should You Begin Your Memoir?
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