Smelled - smelt

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The past tense of the verb 'to smell' can be written in two ways - smelled and smelt. OED says "In the pa[st]. tense and p[artici]ple. both smelled and smelt are in use, but the latter is now [1989] the more frequent of the two in British English." In terms of clarity, smelled is a preferable form of the past tense than smelt, because the latter is ambiguous.

  • 'To smelt' is a verb to do with metal-working. It means "To fuse or melt (ore, etc.) in order to extract the metal; to obtain or produce (metal) by this process." (OED)

One cannot easily imagine a sentence in which it would be easy to confuse the two words, but if it is possible, it will happen sometimes.


  • There are also some more or less obscure nouns smelt
    • From the seventeenth century until 1813, when the coin ceased to be minted, a smelt was a slang word for a half-guinea (10/6, or ten shillings and six [old] pence).
    • A smelt is also a small fish, classically in British English Osmerus eperlanus, but the name is given to many species of small fish of different genera and indeed families.
      • In parts of northern England, smelt is the dialectal variation of the SE 'smolt', the young salmon fish intermediate bewtwwen the parr and grilse; perhaps in the third or fourth year of life.