Could anyone please let me know sentence below sounds correct when you want to inform someone who has eaten something like garlic and his/her bad breath makes you feel really uncomfortable:

Sorry Hardy, but.....
a. your breath smells of garlic.
b. your breath stinks of garlic.
c. your breath reeks of garlic.

To me, 'a' sounds awkward, while 'b' and 'c' both seem to be correct, though, 'c' is the strongest one (due to the prosody of the verb "reek") and I guess it would be quite offensive to tell anyone. Please make me aware regarding these three sentences and their shades of meaning.

1 Answer 1


This is a funny question!

  • a) is rather linguistically neutral (and not awkward), but of course it could still be offensive in practice
  • b) is strong, and clearly offensive
  • c) is strong, clearly offensive and slightly more colloquial (I have a feeling reek is used much more in the US than in the UK; there are plenty of other good colloquial words in the UK, such as hums or pongs)

Note that the prosodic point you made about reeks could equally apply to stinks.

I can't really imagine saying this to anyone except a close friend in the UK, and even then, they might take it badly. But assuming it's a close friend, I might say:

  • I'm picking up a bit of garlic over here, did you have some with lunch?

Or something else suitably indirect. If they don't get the hint, maybe I would say something more offensive to them, but that goes beyond the remit of English language advice!

  • 1
    Whell, based on your explanations, I think they all are correct and mean the same thing and the only distinguishing point that comes to mind is that either "stink" or "reek" are offensive while smell is slightly less strong in this sense. Do you confirm my take on your answer @legatrix?
    – A-friend
    Dec 13, 2020 at 22:03
  • yes, i agree with you.
    – legatrix
    Dec 13, 2020 at 22:36
  • Most British people would never, ever, say something like that to anyone. Dec 14, 2020 at 7:36
  • I certainly haven't hesitated to tell my friends on the odd occasion (also tuna, even worse), and I'm rather polite, so I don't know about 'most'!
    – legatrix
    Dec 14, 2020 at 7:50
  • 1
    I wouldn't ever tell anyone they smelled bad. I'd rather suffer. Dec 14, 2020 at 9:29

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