Smelled or Smelt? Sniffing Out the Correct Past Tense

In the English language, navigating the choice between ‘smelled’ and ‘smelt’ can be somewhat perplexing, as both forms represent the past tense of ‘to smell’. Grasping the proper application of these terms extends beyond regional linguistic preferences and encompasses an understanding of their role within the structure of a sentence.

The Main Difference between Smelled and Smelt

Smelled or Smelt? Sniffing Out the Correct Past Tense

Smelled or Smelt: Key Takeaways

  • Smelled is the past tense of “smell” that is prevalent in both American and British English.
  • Smelt is an alternative past tense form used mainly in British English.

Smelled or Smelt: the Definition

What Does Smelt Mean?

“Smelt” is primarily used in British English as both the past tense and past participle of the verb ‘smell’. It can be utilized interchangeably with “smelled” within the UK. For example:

  • I smelt the roses in the garden yesterday.

What Does Smelled Mean?

On the other hand, “smelled” is the standard form in American English and is also widely accepted in British English. It follows the regular pattern of adding ‘ed’ to form the past tense and past participle. For instance:

  • We smelled something burning in the kitchen.

Smelled or Smelt: Usage and Examples

In our exploration of English verb forms, we encounter certain words that have two past tense variations, such as “smelled” and “smelt.” They both represent the past tense and past participle of the verb “smell.” Let’s clarify when each form is appropriate with some examples.


  • “Smelled”: Predominantly used in American English, “smelled” follows a regular verb conjugation pattern.
  • “Smelt”: Common in British English and other dialects like Australian and Canadian English, “smelt” is an acceptable alternative.

Examples in Sentences:

  • When we walked into the bakery, we smelled the sweet aroma of fresh bread.

Using a Table for Comparison:

American English British English
We smelled roses. We smelt roses.

In both cases, whether you choose “smelled” or “smelt” can depend on regional preferences, but both are correct.

Note: There’s a homograph “smelt” – a different verb meaning to extract metal, which is always “smelt” regardless of the dialect. This is not to be confused with the past tense of “smell.”

In essence, our choice of “smelled” versus “smelt” simply reflects the variety of English we’re using or following. We can comfortably use either based on our audience and adhere to consistency within our writing.

Tips to Remember the Difference

  • When in America: Stick with smelled.
  • When in Britain: Feel free to use smelt or smelled.

Smelled or Smelt: Examples

Example Sentences Using Smelled

  • We smelled the roses blooming in the garden and felt instantly at peace.
  • The moment we walked into the bakery, we smelled the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread.
  • After the rain stopped, we smelled the wet earth, a scent that reminded us of childhood playtimes.
  • We smelled something burning and quickly realized it was just our toast slightly overdone.
  • During the perfume testing, we smelled each fragrance carefully to identify the underlying notes.

Example Sentences Using Smelt

  • We smelt the distinct odor of gas and immediately called for assistance.
  • They smelt the aroma of cinnamon and apples and knew that their grandmother had been baking.
  • We smelt the sea before we even saw it, the salty breeze being a telltale sign of the coast ahead.
  • You wouldn’t have believed it, but we smelt winter in the air – that crispness that heralds snow.
  • When we woke up in the countryside, we smelt the scent of pine and earth all around us.

Related Confused Words with Smelled or Smelt

When we dive into language nuances, it’s easy to stumble upon words that sound similar to “smelt” but have very different meanings. Let’s unravel these commonly mistaken words to see how they differ from our scented friends “smelled” and “smelt.”

Smelt vs. Melt

Smelt refers to either the past tense of “smell” or a type of fish, while melt signifies a process where a solid turns into a liquid due to heat. It’s crucial we don’t mix these up; one might have quite the fishy smell, but when we say our hearts “melt,” we’re expressing a tender emotional response.

Smelt vs. Sardines

  • Smelt:
    • Fish: A small, typically silvery fish found in the Northern Hemisphere.
    • Verb: Past tense of “smell.”
  • Sardines:
    • A small, oily fish often packed tightly in cans, which we differentiate from smelt by its specific species and common preparation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the past tense and past participle form of the verb ‘smell’?

The past tense and past participle form of ‘smell’ can be either ‘smelled’ or ‘smelt.’ Both are correct, but ‘smelled’ is the conventional form in American English, while both ‘smelled’ and ‘smelt’ are used interchangeably in British English.

Can you provide examples of sentences using the past tense of ‘smell’?

Certainly! Here are two examples: “Yesterday, I smelled roses in the garden.” and “The hallway smelt of fresh paint last night.”

What are some synonyms for the word ‘smelled’?

Synonyms for ‘smelled’ include ‘scented,’ ‘sniffed,’ ‘inhaled,’ ‘detected,’ or ‘whiffed.’ Each of these can be used depending on the context to convey similar meanings.

How is ‘smelled’ correctly pronounced in English?

‘Smelled’ is pronounced as /smɛld/, with a single syllable and a short “e” sound similar to the word ‘melt.’

What is the distinction between ‘smelt’ and ‘smelled’ in usage?

‘Smelt’ is more commonly used in British English and is considered interchangeable with ‘smelled.’ However, in American English, ‘smelled’ is the preferred and more commonly used form.

Why might someone choose to use ‘smelt’ instead of ‘smelled’?

Someone might choose to use ‘smelt’ to align with British English conventions or for stylistic reasons, such as to convey a more traditional or regional tone in their writing or speech.

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