Smelt or Smelled – what is correct and how to use it

Irregular verb Smell

In our database, you can find the irregular verb ‘smell’ in these forms:

Irregular verb Smell

It has both an irregular and regular form. You can use both and both are correct. Brits use smelled and smelt interchangeably, but speakers in North America rarely use smelt.

But which is the most used one? Let´s look at Google Ngram Viewer tool which displays a graph showing how phrases have occurred in a corpus of books over the years.

Smelt or Smelled?

Form `smelt` was more used till 1950. But after 1990 form `smelled` absulutelly dominates.

Both `smelt` and `smelled` have the same past simple and past participle form.

The irregular pattern for Smell, Smelt, Smelled

We can group irregular verbs by their pattern. It means that more irregular verbs have the same pattern.

In the case of the verb ‘Smell’ we can see the same pattern with these verbs:

Infinitive Past simple Past participle
Smell Smelt / Smelled Smelt / Smelled
Deal Dealt Dealt
Feel Felt Felt
Keep Kept Kept
Leave Left Left
Sweep Swept Swept

There are many other verbs with the same pattern though.

Learning patterns is a good way how to learn the irregular forms.

Examples of the usage `Smelled` and `Smelt`

Let´s look at the current online media:

  • New project to find out what Europe smelt like from 16-20th century – [BBC]
  • Tenerife hospital fire: ‘I smelt smoke then something exploded`.– [BBC]
  • Yaoumbaev told CNN he smelt something extremely unpleasant [CNN]
  • to investigate Bernhardt’s involvement in proposals that would revise rules protecting the delta smelt, a California fish.  [CNN]
  • Wilson said she saw smoke grenades and smelled gunpowder in the hallways. [CNN]
  • … Hall’s eyes looked “bloodshot and watery” and he smelled alcohol on his breath, and because the stop might get out of control. [CNN]

Meaning of Smell

The Oxford Dictionary says Smell means “​to have a particular smell”

  •  + adj. The room smelt damp.
  • Dinner smells good.
  •  ‘You smell nice,’ Aidan said with a smile.
  • a bunch of sweet-smelling flowers
  •  smell of something His breath smelt of garlic.
  • When he did come home, he smelled of alcohol.
  • The house smelt of cedar wood and fresh polish.
  •  smell like something What does the perfume smell like?
  • Hydrogen sulphide smells like rotten eggs.
  • The crisp air smells like clean hay.

We can find a very similar meaning in the Cambridge dictionary: “ to have a particular quality that others can notice with their noses”

There is also a ‘Smelt fish’, but there is no ‘Smelled fish’. More information about ‘Smelt fish’ can be found in Wikipedia.

Synonyms for ‘smell’

  • Aroma
  • Scent
  • Stink
  • Essence
  • …atc…