This lesson explores the sense of smell and how to talk about smelling things and how things smell, since it works a bit differently than it does in English. We'll divide the lesson into three parts of speech having to do with the sense of smell.
When we use the noun "smell" to mean "odor," as in, "There's a funny smell in here," or, "What's that smell?", just remember that if it is a neutral smell, the cognate odore works just fine. Cos'è quel odore (what is that smell)? If it isn't neutral, then we use other words or we qualify odore (odor).
If it's a particularly unpleasant smell, it's una puzza (a stink or a stench). There are other words to use, too, but for now, let's keep it simple. Che puzza! (something stinks!)
We can also talk about un cattivo odore (a bad smell) or un buon odore (a good smell). We might need the verb avere (to have) to complete the sentence.
I get a new car and I like the way it smells inside:
Questa macchina ha un buon odore (this car smells good).
You sniff the milk container:
Questo latte ha un cattivo odore, sarà andato a male (this milk smells bad, it must have gone sour).
If it is a good smell, either the flower kind or the food kind, we can use the cognate profumo.
I walk into someone's kitchen and say che buon profumo! I mean "It smells great in here!"
The English cognate "perfume" is usually reserved for flower essences used in beauty products, but in Italian, it can represent "a good smell." So let's keep in mind that in Italian we use a noun and in English, we use the intransitive verb "to smell" for this (much of the time).
Another good and easy cognate to know is aroma because it means pretty much the same thing as "aroma" in English. We usually use it for food, herbs, and spices.
Le cipolle hanno un sapore e un aroma molto forte,
Onions have a strong smell and taste,
Caption 56, In cucina con Arianna la panzanella - Part 1Play Caption
The most common Italian verb corresponding to the transitive verb "to smell" in English is sentire which we can equate with "to sense," with your nose, your ears, or your tongue.
Senti che buon profumo.
Senti che bella canzone.
Senti questo sugo. C'è abbastanza sale?
But if want to talk about using my nose to sniff something, I can use annusare (to sniff).
Annusa questi fiori, senti che profumo! (smell these flowers, how good they smell).
Let's say I have some flowers, but they have no smell. Non odorano (they don't have a scent). The verb is odorare (to have a scent). Odorare can also be transitive, like annusare, but it's not one of those everyday verbs you need to know.
Finally, there is fiutare, which means the same thing, "to sniff." But again, you might come across the word, but you don't need it in everyday conversation.
Please see the lesson Taste and Smell - Sapere Part 2 for more on this, plus some examples.
Italians like to have clean, ironed clothes, and they use ammorbidente (fabric softener) that also serves to give a nice scent to the laundered items.
When the laundry comes off the clothesline, it smells lovely: il bucato è profumato.
Some people like scented candles: candele profumate.
We also have the adjective odoroso (having an odor, usually strong). It's not used a lot in normal day-to-day conversation, so don't worry about this adjective...
In cooking, Italians like certain aromatic herbs — erbe aromatiche, such as basilico (basil), rosmarino (rosemary), and salvia (sage).