Smelt or Smelled – British vs. American English

29.01.24 British English vs. American English Time to read: 5min

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The English language has been distributed globally, resulting in the development of different variations of spelling and pronouncing words. When you write an academic paper, it is essential to pay attention to linguistic consistency to maintain a cohesive flow and academic integrity. Two of the most popular variations of English are the British English vs. American English dialects. This article aims to show the distinction between the two with the example of “smelt” or “smelled.”

“Smelt” or “Smelled”

“Smelt” and “smelled” both define the past tense and past participle of the verb “to smell.” In general, the word “to smell” refers to the act of detecting odors or scents through the nose or somaeone/something emitting odors or scents. The spelling may vary depending on whether you use British English or American English. In British English, “smelt” is an irregular verb and is written with one “l” and a “t” at the end. In American English, however, the verb is regular and is always written with a double “l” and the suffix “-ed” to indicate the past tense or past participle. Additionally, “smelt” can be used as a noun in both dialects, referring to a specific fish race with a distinct odor.

British English



American English

smelled (past tense)

smelt (different word)

Both variations are correct. However, it depends on whether you decide to write in British English or American English. While in British English both versions are correct, the preferred version is “smelt.” In American English, there is only one correct way to spell the past tense or past participle of “to smell,” which is “smelled.” The British version of “smelt” is grammatically wrong in America. Essentially, it is crucial to stick to one version of English to keep academic integrity and credibility.

Note: The word “to smelt” refers to the process of extracting and refining metal from its ore. It is another verb in its infinitive form, and is spelled with one “l” and a “t” at the end in both British and American English. The past tense is “smelted” in both variants.

Examples of using “smelt” and “smelled” as a verb

The following highlights the difference in spelling of the verb “smelt/smelled” in British as well as American English with examples.

  • British English: “Smelt/smelled”
  • American English: “Smelled”
  • Due to a problem, the whole school smelt/smelled horrible.
  • Tim’s dog smelt/smelled him and she loved him.
  • My grandma’s house always smelt/smelled of sage.
  • Due to a problem, the whole school smelled horrible.
  • Tim’s dog smelled him and she loved him.
  • My grandma’s house always smelled of sage.

“Smelt” or “smelled” in the “-ing” form

The “-ing” form inflection of the verb “to smell” implies the present participle or a gerund. In both, American and British English, the correct form is “smelling.”

  • British English: “Smelling”
  • American English: “Smelling”
  • Smelling fresh bread is always delightful.
  • I enjoyed smelling the earthy scents.
  • Smelling a strange odor, she didn’t enter.

Note: In certain cases, the word form “smelling” cannot be used. When describing a state or habitual actions, use the base form “smell.”

“Smelt” or “smelled” as a noun

“Smelt” can also be used as a noun with a different meaning to the verb in both British and American English. “Smelt” is a specific fish with a special odor living on the coast and rivers. The following examples show the correct use of the word “smelt” as a noun in both British and American English.

  • British English: “Smelt”
  • American English: “Smelt”
  • The discovery of the smelt was a success.
  • The smelt can be found in coastal seas.
  • The smelt in the river has a distinct odor.

The word “smell” represents the noun “to smell” and holds the meaning of the olfactory quality and essence of something or somaeone. This definition applies to both British English and American English. The following examples show the correct use of the word “smell” as a noun in both variations.

  • British English: “Smell”
  • American English: “Smell”
  • The whole room was filled with a toxic smell.
  • The smell of cinnamon is favoured.
  • She loves the smell of rain.

“To smelt” as a different word

The word “smelt” refers to the fusion or melting of a metallic substance with various chemicals. The past tense and past participle of it is “smelted” and the present participle or gerund is “smelting” in both English dialects. In the following, some examples are showcased.

  • British English: “To smelt”
  • American English: “To smelt”
  • He smelts the rusty metals for jewellery.
  • The factory smelted copper daily.
  • Smelting iron is a complex industrial process.


In British English, the preferred past tense version of the verb “to smell” is “smelt.” In American English, the past tense of “to smell” is “smelled.” Both past tense versions are correct in British English, but in American English only “smelled” is correct.

Here are some different tenses for the word “to smell.” The version used completely depends on the English variant you’re using.

  • Simple present: Smell or smells
  • Simple past: Smelt or smelled
  • Present participle: Smelling
  • Past participle: Smelt or smelled

According to the Oxford Dictionary, both versions “smelt” and “smelled” are correct as the past tense version of the verb “to smell.”

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