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Smelled or Smelt—What’s The Difference?

Updated on
May 21, 2019
Grammar
  • Smelled is the past tense of smell in both North American and British English.
  • Smelt is also used as the past tense of smell in British English. Brits use smelled and smelt interchangeably, but speakers in North America rarely use smelt.
  • Smelt also has meanings unrelated to smelling. Its other meanings have to do with metalworking and fish.

The verb smell belongs to a group of verbs like learn, kneel, and spell. These verbs have two different ways of spelling their past tense forms. This often comes down to a difference in spelling conventions between the United States (and sometimes Canada) and the rest of the English-speaking countries. That’s exactly what the whole smelled vs. smelt kerfuffle is about.

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What is the difference between smelled and smelt?

The verb smell, when used by an Australian or a Brit, has two past tense forms—smelled and smelt. However, for people from the United States and Canada, it usually has only one form—smelled.

Other meanings of smelt

If you speak a North American dialect of English, wait just a second before you change every instance of smelt to smelled. Smelt has other uses, even in your variety of English. To smelt a rock means to melt the rock in order to get some kind of metal out of it. The past tense of the verb to smelt is smelted. A smelt is also a type of fish. These two meanings of smelt are the same in all dialects of English.

Smelled and smelt examples

A red sage smelled distinctly like pineapple.
The Sacramento Bee

But the delta has turned into a choke point for California water supplies, in part because of regulatory requirements to protect another endangered fish—the delta smelt.
The Wall Street Journal

There were three small marks on one fragment that smelt burnt—but the heat damage appeared to be recent and a result of “localised heating”, the ATSB added.
BBC

The companies paid Canadian duties on the imports, but later smelted the jewelry into bullion and sold the precious metals in Canada.
CBC News

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