Taste or smell?

In Swiss German, the verb schmecken is used for both smell and taste in English. This is why some Swiss speakers only use one of these two verbs. But in English, they don’t mean the same thing. So when should I use smell, and when should I use taste?


In English, when you taste something, you try out a kind of food by putting it in your mouth. Your sense of taste allows you to recognise food, sense how salty or sweet something tastes, etc.

Taste can be a verb or a noun. You can taste something (verb) by having a small bite to see whether you like it or not.

     Fresh Swiss bread tastes amazing (verb).

Food can have a variety of tastes (noun, countable), for example, salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and so on. When you offer someone something they’ve never had before, you could tell them to ‘have a taste’ (noun, usually singular).


The verb smell, on the other hand, is when you recognise or notice a particular smell through your nose. Smell can also be a noun – certain types of cheese, for example, have a strong smell. Flowers smell good (verb), whereas if someone’s breath smells of garlic (verb), it’s a good idea to offer them some chewing gum or politely take your leave and run away, depending on your relationship.

OK. Maybe some flowers don’t smell so good.

If someone says ‘you smell’ (verb), this means you’ve got an unpleasant smell – do everyone around you a favour and go have a shower.

On the other hand, if someone says they smell ‘danger’ or ‘trouble’, this means that they feel something bad is going to happen.

     I smell danger. This place doesn’t feel very safe…