Difference Wiki

Odor vs. Smell: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 20, 2023
Odor refers specifically to a distinct scent, often unpleasant, while smell is a more general term for the ability to detect scents.

Key Differences

Odor typically implies a specific, often strong or unpleasant scent, emanating from an object or environment. Smell, in contrast, is a broader term that encompasses the general sense or perception of scents, pleasant or unpleasant.
When discussing something with a notable scent, one often refers to it as having an odor, particularly if the scent is negative or pungent. Smell, however, can refer to any kind of scent, whether it is good, bad, strong, or faint.
Odor is more commonly used in formal or scientific contexts to describe a distinctive scent, especially in terms of chemical compounds. Smell, on the other hand, is a more versatile term used in everyday language to describe the act of perceiving scents or the nature of a scent itself.
In some cases, odor is used to describe a lingering or pervasive scent, which could be indicative of a problem or characteristic of a substance. Smell, in contrast, is a neutral term that can refer to any scent, regardless of its qualities.
Odor and smell are sometimes used interchangeably, but odor often carries a connotation of being unwanted or offensive, whereas smell does not inherently suggest a positive or negative quality.

Comparison Chart


Often implies an unpleasant or strong scent
Neutral, can refer to any type of scent


More specific, used for distinct scents
Broader, refers to the sense of scent


Common in formal or scientific discussions
Used in general, everyday language


Often suggests a persistent or lingering scent
Neutral, does not imply persistence

Association with Senses

Primarily associated with the sense of smell
Relates to the act of perceiving scents

Odor and Smell Definitions


A characteristic or pervasive scent.
The sweet odor of blooming flowers wafted through the air.


The faculty or power of perceiving odors.
She has a keen sense of smell and can identify various spices blindfolded.


A hint or trace of something in the air.
There was a faint odor of gasoline in the garage.


To perceive or detect a scent.
Can you smell the aroma of coffee in the morning?


A distinctive smell, especially an unpleasant one.
The odor of rotten eggs filled the room.


A distinct odor or scent.
There is a strange smell coming from the basement.


A term often used in scientific contexts for a particular type of scent.
The chemical emitted a noxious odor that was hard to ignore.


A particular quality of a thing as perceived through the sense of smell.
The smell of fresh rain is very calming.


A specific quality of a scent that identifies its source.
The odor of freshly baked bread is unmistakable.


To emit a scent.
The flowers smell wonderful in the spring.


A quality of something that is perceived by the sense of smell
Kitchen odors.


The sense, located in the nasal cavities of mammals and relying on the olfactory nerves, by which molecules borne in a fluid such as air can be perceived; the olfactory sense.


A similar sense in other animals, as insects' ability to perceive air-borne molecules with their antennae.


Can the word smell be used as a verb?

Yes, smell can be used as a verb meaning to perceive or detect a scent.

Is odor only used for bad smells?

Not necessarily. While commonly associated with bad smells, odor can refer to any distinct scent.

Does smell always imply a strong scent?

No, smell can refer to any intensity of scent, from faint to strong.

Is the use of odor more formal than smell?

Generally, yes. Odor is often used in more formal or scientific contexts.

Is odor always a negative term?

Odor often implies an unpleasant or strong scent but can be used neutrally in scientific contexts.

Can animals have a sense of smell?

Yes, many animals have a highly developed sense of smell.

Can smell refer to pleasant scents?

Yes, smell is a neutral term and can refer to both pleasant and unpleasant scents.

Can smell be used to describe the act of sensing odors?

Yes, it can refer to the act of perceiving scents through the nose.

Are odor and smell synonyms?

They are often used interchangeably, but they have subtle differences in connotation and usage.

Are there disorders related to smell?

Yes, such as hyperosmia (increased sensitivity) and hyposmia (reduced sensitivity).

Can smell have positive connotations?

Absolutely. Smell can refer to pleasant, enjoyable scents.

Can a person lose their sense of smell?

Yes, conditions like anosmia can cause loss of smell.

Is the ability to smell important?

Yes, it's crucial for detecting dangers (like gas leaks) and enjoying life's pleasures (like food).

Is odor detection subjective?

Yes, different people may perceive odors differently.

Can smell be used in cooking?

Absolutely, smell is a key element in experiencing flavor.

Does odor always refer to a specific source?

Typically, yes. Odor usually indicates a specific, identifiable source.

Is odor a noun or a verb?

Odor is a noun that refers to a particular scent.

Can smell affect mood?

Yes, certain smells can evoke emotions and memories.

Can odor indicate health issues?

Yes, changes in body odor can signal certain health problems.

Does odor only apply to natural scents?

No, odor can apply to both natural and artificial scents.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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