'Smelled' or 'smelt,' which one should you use? You might have noticed them being used interchangeably and been left wondering which is correct. After reading this article, you'll no longer wonder.
In short, both are correct but 'smelled' is the preferred spelling in American English, while the Brits use both.
As I mentioned in the introduction, 'smelled' and 'smelt' are both grammatical. You could use either one, and your sentence would be correct.
That is if we're talking about conjugating the verb 'to smell.'
Indeed, there's also the noun 'smelt' and the verb 'to smelt.' Let's take a look at the definitions of each one.
Here's an example sentence using 'smelled':
I thought I smelled onion; what are you making?
'Smelled' is the preferred past tense or past participle in North America and is used in British English, too. This verb form follows the usual rules for conjugating a verb in the past tense, which is to add -ed at the end.
Of course, you might also see 'smelled' in the present perfect, and past perfect tenses since those both use the past participle. Here's an example of a sentence in the present perfect tense using 'smelled':
This square has always smelled like hot dogs for as long as I can remember.
And here's an example of a sentence in the past perfect tense:
If I had smelled it sooner, I would have cleaned it up.
Much of what I said about 'smelled' also applies to 'smelt.' It is also the past indefinite or past participle tense of the verb 'to smell.' And it can also be used in the present and past perfect tenses.
The only difference is that 'smelt' doesn't follow the usual rules for conjugating a verb in the past indefinite tense, which makes it a semi-irregular verb. Instead of adding -ed at the end, the Brits prefer to add a -t.
Why? Your guess is as good as mine. But these are not the only verbs to follow this format. Here are a few others:
With all these words, the -t ending is the preferred spelling in British English, whereas the -ed ending is the preferred spelling in US English.
But 'smelt' also has a couple of other meanings. First, there's the verb 'to smelt,' which means to melt a rock to retrieve metal from it. Or to melt a metal object to reuse the metal.
Then there's the noun 'smelt,' which refers to a type of fish.
Now that you're clear on the meaning of each word, wouldn't you like to know how to pronounce them? Let's start with the word 'smelled.'
The International Phonetic Alphabet spells it like this:
And it sounds like this when you say it:
Now let's do the same for 'smelt.' The IPA spells it like this:
And it sounds this way when you say it:
Time to look at some examples of the two words used in a sentence. Since they both mean the same thing and are both correct, I'll use them interchangeably in the examples below.
The milk smelt a little off, so I didn't drink it.
It smelled like food as soon as you walked into the house.
The flowers smelt delicious and reminded her of summer days spent walking through the rose garden.
She sat down in the office chair and noticed the air smelled a little stale.
My dog smelt fresh and clean after a nice warm bath.
So there you have it; 'smelled' and 'smelt' can be used interchangeably because they are both correct. If you're based in the US or writing for a North American audience, you might want to use 'smelled,' but if you're in the UK, you can use either.
If you'd like to learn about more confusing words, head to our blog, where you'll find many other articles on similar topics.