'Stink' vs 'Stank' vs 'Stunk': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on June 23, 2023

‘Stink’ vs ‘Stank’ vs ‘Stunk’: What’s the Difference? For fans of the song ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch, ’ this set of words may bring up memories of Christmas cheer as popularized by the lyric “Stink, stank, stunk!” But what do they mean? How is each version of this word related to the other, and how do you tell the difference? 

Need a short version? Here’s a rundown of what you’ll learn: 

  • ‘Stink’ refers to a bad smell and is used in the present tense
  • ‘Stank’ means the same but is the past tense version of stink
  • ‘Stunk’ also means the same but is the past participle version of stink 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Stink’ vs ‘Stank’ vs ‘Stunk’? 

The key to understanding this new set of words is going to depend less on definitions but rather depend on understanding verb tenses

  • There are three main tenses in English — past, present, and future — each with four possible aspects — simple, perfect, continuous, and perfect continuous —

In this article, we are going to focus on the present tense as used in ‘stink’ and the past simple and perfect as used in ‘stank’ and ‘stunk,’ respectively. The present tense is easiest to understand because it is what we use to talk about something happening right now. 

The past tenses are slightly trickier because you need to distinguish when to use each one. We will dive into the particular aspects of past tense when we break down each word, but here is a short overview to keep in mind: 

  • Simple past tense typically adds the suffix “-ed” or “-d” to the end of the infinitive root of the word. For irregular verbs, the word may not add a suffix but change a letter in the root, which we see in the case of ‘stank.’ 
  • Perfect past tense requires the verb to change to its participle form, which means the verb has either been changed to an adjective or paired with an auxiliary verb to solidify its meaning. ‘Stunk’ is the past participle of ‘stink.’ 

To get the full picture of these tenses, let’s first dive into the individual meanings of these words. 

Definition of ‘Stink’: What Does it Mean? 

Oxford Languages defines ‘Stink’ as a verb meaning: 

  • To have a strong unpleasant smell
  • Be very unpleasant, contemptible, or scandalous 

As a noun, ‘Stink’ can also mean: 

  • A strong unpleasant smell, a stench
  • A commotion or fuss

Synonyms of ‘Stink’ - Verbs

  • Reek
  • Smell 
  • Smell foul
  • Suck 

Synonyms of ‘Stink’ - Nouns

  • Stench
  • Foul odor
  • Miasma
  • Fuss 
  • Commotion
  • Brouhaha

Antonyms of ‘Stink’

  • Perfume
  • Sweetness
  • Be excellent

Phrases with ‘Stink’

  • You stink
  • This place stinks
  • Stink bug
  • Stink eye
  • Kick up a stink

Definition of ‘Stank’: What Does it Mean? 

‘Stank’ is the simple past tense version of ‘stink’ and therefore means the same thing: 

  • Something that smelled bad in the past in the moment

Merriam-Webster also defines ‘stank’ as a noun meaning: 

  • A ditch or pool containing water
  • A strong offensive odor

For the sake of this article, we will be focusing on the simple past tense verb. It is important to note that the second noun definition refers to African American Vernacular English (AAVE), where ‘stank’ is used in many communities as an adjective

Phrases with ‘Stank’ 

  • The garage stank
  • She stank up the place
  • It stank of 
  • A stank in the forest

Definition of ‘Stunk’: What Does it Mean? 

‘Stunk’ is the past participle form of ‘stink’ and therefore means the same thing: 

  • Something that smelled bad in the past over a long period of time

Note! The distinction here between ‘Stunk’ and ‘Stank' though: 

  • ‘Stunk,’ the past participle, refers to a longstanding quality of stinking, typically over many years.
  • Meanwhile, ‘stank’ typically refers to a past stink that occurred in just one moment. 

Phrases with ‘Stunk’

  • She stunk 
  • The sewer stunk

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Stink’ vs ‘Stank’ vs ‘Stunk’

Thankfully, the different tenses of these words are easy to distinguish when saying them out loud or spelling them. But, it is still important to keep your pronunciations clear, so when you are speaking or giving a presentation, listeners don’t get lost and keep your timeline straight. 

Use this guide to pronounce each word correctly. 

Here is the phonetic spelling of ‘Stink’:

  • St-ihnk (with the same ‘I’ as in ‘ring)

Here is the phonetic spelling of ‘Stank’:

  • St-ank (with the same high ‘A’ as in ‘claim’)

Here is the phonetic spelling of ‘Stunk’: 

  • St-uhnk (with the same glottal ‘U’ as in ‘gum’)

How to Use ‘Stink’ vs ‘Stank’ vs ‘Stunk’ in a Sentence

You’ve seen some common phrases with each word, but let’s take a look at some longer example sentences. 


  • He threw a stink bomb in the street, and everything reeked of rotten eggs. 
  • Her ex crashed the wedding and caused a big stink at the reception. 
  • He doesn’t want to play with his sister because she stinks at video games. 


  • The trash stank all night after they threw away leftover crab shells from dinner. 
  • It stank to be the only one not invited to the middle school dance.
  • The house stank after a skunk got trapped in the chimney. 


  • The tomb stunk after being abandoned for thousands of years. 
  • The old mansion stunk like rotting corpses. 
  • She really stunk up the place when she showed up uninvited. 

Final Advice on ‘Stink’ vs ‘Stank’ vs ‘Stunk’

This confusing word article has been a bit different than others given that we’ve covered more grammar than vocabulary — but grammar is one of the main keys to understanding new words. Aside from the new words' meanings, remember to keep verb tenses in mind. Present tense is easiest because it’s what we often use, but to keep the past tenses straight, just think about whether something happened in a short moment, or over a long period of time. 

If you would like a short recap: 

  • Remember that ‘stink’ is the present tense verb meaning to smell bad or to be bad at something. 
  • ‘Stank’ is the simple past tense version of ‘stink’ and therefore means the same, just that the stench has already come and gone, 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Stunk’ is the past participle version of ‘stink,’ meaning the stench has lingered for a lot longer. 

When in doubt, remember The Grinch and use that as a way to keep the three tenses separate in your head. Read some of our other grammatical articles for more help with other confusing words and grammar tips to ensure you’re using your new vocabulary correctly.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.