Using 'sentir' to describe senses

The verb sentir is an interesting verb as it is more general and vague than the verb to smell in English.

1. 

Sentir is first of all used to express the sense of smell:

Est-ce que vous sentez ce parfum?
Do you smell that perfume?


2. 

Sentir can also be used in a larger sense to express to feel something:

Ça fait mal?
- Non, je ne sens rien.

Does it hurt? 
- No, I don't feel anything.

Est-ce qu'elle sent ça ?
Does she feel that?


3.

And in some cases, sentir can even be used to express taste, in a very general context of 'sensing' the presence of an ingredient for example:

Est-ce que tu sens la tomate ?
Do you taste the tomato?


ATTENTION:

You use the same structure - sentir [quelque chose] - to express both to smell/feel/taste [something] AND to smell like/of [something].

Note that in the case of smell like/of, you always use definite articles le, la, l', les as the simile is general.

Since the structure is the same, it is only the context that makes the meaning clear:

Tu sens la friture, c'est dégoûtant !
You smell of fried food, it's disgusting!

Tu sens la friture dans cette rue?
Do you smell the fried food on that street ?


Special cases 

Look at the following fixed expressions in French:

Tu sens la rose aujourd'hui !
You smell good today!

Ouh là là ! Ils ne sentent pas la rose !
Wow! They smell nasty!

Attention ! Ça ne sent pas la rose là-dedans !
Careful! It smells nasty in here!

- sentir la rose, which means to smell good, literally 'to smell of roses'

- ne pas sentir la rose, which means to smell bad/nasty, literally 'to not smell of roses

 

See also the more advanced Using 'sentir bon' and 'se sentir bien'

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Tu sens la friture dans cette rue?
Do you smell the fried food on that street ?


Tu sens la rose aujourd'hui !
You smell good today!


Est-ce que tu sens la tomate ?
Do you taste the tomato?


Ouh là là ! Ils ne sentent pas la rose !
Wow! They smell nasty!


Est-ce qu'elle sent ça ?
Does she feel that?


Ça fait mal?
- Non, je ne sens rien.

Does it hurt? 
- No, I don't feel anything.


Ça sent les roses ici.
It smells like roses in here.


Tu sens la friture, c'est dégoûtant !
You smell of fried food, it's disgusting!


Est-ce que vous sentez ce parfum?
Do you smell that perfume?


Attention ! Ça ne sent pas la rose là-dedans !
Careful! It smells nasty in here!


Q&A Forum 6 questions, 10 answers

LizA1

I would have written Elle goûté la vanille for she tasted vanilla since it didn’t indicate she sensed the taste of vanilla, which is different.

Asked 3 weeks ago

I would have written Elle goûté la vanille for she tasted vanilla since it didn’t indicate she sensed the taste of vanilla, which is different.

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Il sent la pain was the correct answer in the test, is pain feminine? Shouldn’t it be il sent le pain?

Asked 10 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi Debra,

I have checked with Aurélie and the correct answer is:

"Ça sent le pain".

 

 

 

Il sent la pain was the correct answer in the test, is pain feminine? Shouldn’t it be il sent le pain?

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I feel bad

To say I feel bad, would you write "Je me sens mal" or "Je sens mal"? 

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi Steven ,

Je me sens mal or je ne me sens pas bien is I feel bad in French.

Je sens mauvais would be I smell bad!

Hope this helps!

CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer
Well, 'je sens mal' would suggest that there's something wrong with your sense of smell....

Hi Cécile,

So "Je sens mal" would mean nothing as it is gramatically incorrect then, is that right? 

I feel bad

To say I feel bad, would you write "Je me sens mal" or "Je sens mal"? 

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DeAnnaC1

là-dedans

Bonjour!

in the example “ça ne sent pas la rose là-dedans” is translated as “it smells nasty in here”.  Formerly I had understood “là-dedans” to mean in there.  Is it both or am I just wrong.  Sorry, I know this is getting off on a bit of a bunny trail...

merci d’avance!

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi D,

Although technically 'là-dedans' would be 'in there', if you walked into someone's bedroom and it smelled bad you would use the same expression meaning 'in here'.

It seems a bit more flexible in French...

Hope this helps! 

DeAnnaC1
Yes perfect!  Thanks much for the clarification!

là-dedans

Bonjour!

in the example “ça ne sent pas la rose là-dedans” is translated as “it smells nasty in here”.  Formerly I had understood “là-dedans” to mean in there.  Is it both or am I just wrong.  Sorry, I know this is getting off on a bit of a bunny trail...

merci d’avance!

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Under the 'Special Cases' section, ne pas sentir or ne sentir pas?

Under the 'Special Cases' section, one of the fixed expressions says '-ne pas sentir la rose...', but the examples have the ne ... pas surrounding sentir. Is there a time when it would be 'ne pas sentir ...', or is the expression written that way to show that it is literally 'to not smell'? Thank you for the clarification. Terri
Asked 9 years ago
RonC1
Bonjour Terri, The ne pas + the infinitive is mostly seen as a literary structure. Here's an example with explanation: To negate an infinitive, you put the ne pas directly in front. To negate anything else, you put the ne...pas around the conjugated verb, either the auxiliary in compound verb tenses or moods like the passé composé, i.e. je n'ai pas mange and surrounding the verb in simple tenses like «Je ne mange pas» Vous devriez ne pas la connaître = You are negating the infinitive connaître --> to not know Vous ne devriez pas la connaître = You are negating the conjugated verb devriez --> should not So the first sentence says that it must be the case that you don't know her, while the second sentence says that it must not be the case that you do know her. J'espère que cela vous aiderait. Bonne chance,
Ron, Thanks. This makes it clear for me. Terri

Under the 'Special Cases' section, ne pas sentir or ne sentir pas?

Under the 'Special Cases' section, one of the fixed expressions says '-ne pas sentir la rose...', but the examples have the ne ... pas surrounding sentir. Is there a time when it would be 'ne pas sentir ...', or is the expression written that way to show that it is literally 'to not smell'? Thank you for the clarification. Terri

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bonjour,

Asked 4 years ago
which level is this lesson?
Posted by Aurélie DrouardIn: Level A1, Idioms, Idiomatic Usage, and Structures, Idiotisme

bonjour,

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Let me take a look at that...