The Most Creative Words to Describe Smell

When depicting smell, descriptive language can help the reader have a much more vivid experience. This article explores the best ways to depict smells and has compiled a list of words associated with scents.

The nose can recognize more than one trillion different scents. The ability to smell is extremely strong. We use smells to describe things we can’t see because they can arouse memories and emotions.

What happens, though, when we want to describe a smell to someone? How do we accurately describe the scent of a wet dog?

That’s why we decided to dedicate today’s post to the most creative words to describe smell that you can use. If this sounds interesting, keep on reading until the end!

Why Is Smell Important in Story Telling?

clear drinking glass filled with coffee on brown wooden surface
Photo by Battlecreek Coffee Roasters on Unsplash

It’s challenging to depict smells. However, if you know the right words to use, it doesn’t have to be.

A smell is produced when molecules come into contact with the receptors in our noses.

Anything can produce these molecules, including foods, beverages, flowers, plants, animals, and even people. When molecules enter our nose, they interact with receptors there. This causes neurons to send a signal to our brain.

This is how smell appears to us.

The brain’s limbic system, which manages our emotions and memory, directly connects with our sense of smell. Because of this, certain smells have the power to transport us to a past moment or location instantly. Although people frequently disregard it, the sense of smell is one of the most effective ways to trigger emotions and memories.

Although you may be tempted to say, “It smells like a rose,” that isn’t very helpful to someone unfamiliar with rose smells. Additionally, there are numerous varieties of rose scents, including musky, floral, sweet, and others.

Try to determine which category a smell belongs to when encountering one you aren’t quite sure about. Explaining it to others will give you a place to start.

After extensive research, scientists have determined ten categories. These are:

  • fragrant, 
  • woody/resinous, 
  • fruity (non-citrus), 
  • chemical, 
  • minty/peppermint,
  • sweet,
  • popcorn, 
  • lemon,
  • pungent, 
  • decayed.

The classification of a scent is merely the beginning. There are numerous other ways to capture your reader’s imagination.

Defining Smell in Literature

Make an effort to consider all of a smell’s characteristics when describing it. It reminds you of what, precisely? What emotions does it stir up?

If you can be more specific, it will be easier for readers to see what you are trying to say. The best way to describe a smell is not always clear-cut.

It all comes down to using sensory language to paint a clear picture in the reader’s head.

Smells have the power to arouse potent memories and emotions. We frequently smell things before we see them. A bouquet of flowers is more than nice smells. They also represent love and passion. Because they paint a clear picture in our minds, adjectives are used to characterize smells.

A smell’s characteristics can be divided into five primary flavors: sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and umami. Even though you can’t smell them, you can feel what they taste like.

A scent’s intensity can also describe it—is it light and airy or strong and earthy?

Making your description more evocative can be accomplished by identifying the feelings and emotions that a particular scent evokes.

Best Words to Describe Smell

Below you may find some of the most popular words that we use to relay smells in writing. If you think we missed some smells, let us know!

  • Pleasant
  • Putrid
  • Stink
  • Bad
  • Acrid
  • Musty
  • Reek
  • Rank
  • Fresh
  • Rich
  • Heavy
  • Light
  • Faint
  • Spicy
  • Airy
  • Perfume
  • Sweet
  • Earthy
  • Fragrance
  • Heady
  • Salty

Final Words

The smell is only one of the five senses, but it is arguably one of the most difficult to describe. Smelling is such an inane thing to do, and in our daily lives, we are subjected to many smells. Be it fresh or rotten. However, it’s difficult to relate to a third party.

Smelling something is very important for tasting it as well, as many chefs understand food is ready just by its smell. So, in a sense, it’s one and a half senses, but we digress.

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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