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What’s the Past Tense of Smell? Smelled or Smelt?

Both smelled and smelt are accepted past forms of the present tense verb, to smell. Smelled is the American preference, whereas spelt is preferred in UK.

What’s the past tense of “smell”?

Smelled and smelt are both past tenses of the verb smell. To smell something is when we notice the scent of something, or if somethings smells, it produces an odour. Smelled is more common in the US, or in American English. British English uses smelt and smelled.  

Whether you should opt for smelt or smelled depends on if you’re using UK English or US English:

  • UK English uses smelt and smelled as the past tense forms.

  • US English prefers smelled; smelt is seen as a nonstandard variant.

Is it “smelled” or “smelt”?

The verb smell, which the Cambridge Dictionary describes as “to have a particular quality [or odour] others can notice with their noses: my hands smell of onions “. Smell is irregular in a niche way (as verb conjugations go). Smell has two accepted forms for its past tense/past participle, and both are equally accepted as the past tense of smell. Smelled/smelt is similar in its past tense to other verbs like lean, spell, learn, and leap.

simpleI smellI smelled/smeltI will smell
continuousI am smellingI was smellingI will be smelling
perfectI have smelled/smeltI had smelled/smeltI will have smelled/smelt
perfect smellingI have been smellingI had been smellingI will have been smelling
12 verb tenses of ‘smell‘.

‍Irregular verbs like smell

base verbpast tensepast participle
dreamdreamed/dreamt dreamed/dreamt
smellsmelled/smelt smelt/smelled
Irregular verbs (two past tense conjugations).

Example sentences with “smell” (present tense)

Can you smell something burning?

The crisp air smells like clean hay.

‘You smell nice,’ Aidan said with a smile.

What does the perfume smell like?

Hydrogen sulphide smells like rotten eggs.  

Sentences with “smelled” (past tense)

He leaned in closer and smelled the perfume she was wearing.

He had smelled the danger.

She recognized how he smelled from the old days.

When he did come home, he smelled of alcohol.

The baked break smelled delicious coming from the oven.

Examples with “smelt” in sentences

The room smelt damp.

His breath smelt of garlic

The house smelt of cedar wood and fresh polish.

The dog had smelt a rabbit.

Remember that guy or girl in college who smelt so inexplicably good?

Origin of the word smell

From etymology online on smell (v.):

Late 12c., “emit or perceive an odor,” not found in Old English, perhaps cognate with Middle Dutch smolen, Low German smelen “to smolder”.

Learn more about verbs


  1. Merriam-Webster, definition of smell.
  2. Etymology online, origin of smell.

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