- 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.
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.