I encountered a sentence "It smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats." while I was reading a book.

Searching the Internet, I have discovered that in general, "to smell of" and "to smell with" are both OK. Could you, please, explain me the difference, if any, between them? Can we use them both interchangeably?

P.S. Until now I have been using only "to smell with". For example "It smells with watermelon."

  • 2
    You smell with your nose, just like you see with your eyes or taste with your tongue. In this case, the pronoun "with" indicates the body part you are using to perform the action. Mar 9, 2023 at 0:07
  • @CanadianYankee "It smells with watermelon." sounds weird now :)
    – Stone Paul
    Mar 9, 2023 at 0:32
  • "Searching the Internet, I have discovered that both variants are OK." The Internet is a very big place. Where did you read that "smelt with boiled cabbage" was OK? Mar 9, 2023 at 12:56
  • @MarcInManhattan I meant "to smell with/of", sorry for misunderstanding.
    – Stone Paul
    Mar 9, 2023 at 17:05
  • @StonePaul I edited your question to try to make that clearer. Feel free to edit again if I misrepresented what you were trying to say. Mar 9, 2023 at 19:35

1 Answer 1


To smell with is not idiomatic.

The GloWBe corpus has no instances at all of "it smells/smelled/smelt with", but 205 of "it smells/smelled/smelt of".

The iWeb corpus has a few instances with "with" - 20 of them, against 1079 with "of".

Actually, looking at those 20, only 4 of them appear to be instances of what you are asking. Most of them are variations on "It tastes like it smells, with ...."

Edit: The previous paragraph might be misunderstood to say that we say "it tastes with ...". That is not the case either. Those examples could be something like "it tastes like it smells, of lemon". But they are all using "with" to add something to the taste, eg "It tastes just like it smells with a hint more of honey". So the "with" has its usual meaning of "together with".

  • When someone asks me something like "What does it smell like?", I should answer "It smells of watermelon". Thank you for The corpus of Global Web-based English by the way!
    – Stone Paul
    Mar 8, 2023 at 23:23
  • To smell with is completely idiomatic if you say something like, "I smell with my nose." The issue is that verb + with precedes the means by which that verb is done. Mar 9, 2023 at 0:12
  • @CanadianYankee: yes, of course. But that is a different meaning.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 9, 2023 at 10:53
  • @StonePaul: that's right.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 9, 2023 at 10:59

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