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Using 'Oler'

Verb Can Refer to Smelling or Suspicion



La nariz es para oler. (The nose is for smelling.)

Photo by Bob Jagendorf; licensed via Creative Commons.

Just as the verb "to smell" can be used to refer to the act of smelling or the act of producing an odor, so can the Spanish verb oler. But the verbs are used in somewhat different ways.

The irregular verb oler is usually used with a direct object when telling what a person smells:

  • Me gusta oler las flores. I like smelling the flowers.
  • Mi hermano no podía oler la comida. My brother couldn't smell his meal.
  • Olíamos el aire fresco del bosque. We smelled the fresh air of the forest.

Oler can also be used figuratively in the same way: ¡Casi puedo oler la libertad! I can almost smell freedom!

To describe what something smells like, you can use oler a:

  • El coche olía a gasolina. The car smelled of gasoline.
  • Desde que comencé a amamantar a mi bebé siento que huelo a vaca. Since I started to nurse my baby I have felt that I smell like a cow.
  • Tu casa huele a tabaco. Your house smells of tobacco.
  • No huele a los baratos perfumes. It doesn't smell like the cheap perfumes.

Again, oler can be used this way figuratively: La casa olía a dinero. The house smelled of money.

Without an object, oler can refer to the act of smelling: No puedo oler desde hace años. I haven't been able to smell for years.

When used with an indirect-object pronoun, oler can be used to mean "to suspect" or "to seem like":

  • Me huele que el problema no es de tu ordenador. It seems to me that the problem isn't with your computer.
  • A mí me huele que fuiste bruja en la vida pasada. I suspect that you were a witch in your past life.
  • Ya ha olido lo que estamos haciendo. She already suspects what we were doing.

The reflexive form also can be used to express suspicion:

  • Me lo olía yo desde el sábado. I've suspected it since Saturday.
  • Cuando se huele algo se evoca la memoria emocional. When you suspect something it triggers the emotional memory.

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