Using and Conjugating ‘Oler’ in Spanish

Verb can refer to smelling or being suspicious

closeup of cow's nose
La nariz es para oler. (The nose is for smelling.).

Bob Jagendorf / 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 in the two languages.

Oler comes from the Latin verb olēre and is related to a few English words such as "olfactory" and "odor."

How To Use Oler

Oler is usually used with a direct object when telling what a person or creature 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 that" when it has that meaning:

  • 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 previous life.)
  • Ya le 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.)

Full Simple Conjugation of Oler

Oler is conjugated regularly except that the o- of the stem changes to hue- when stressed. The irregular forms are shown below in boldface:

Present indicative: yo huelo, tú hueles, usted/él/ella huele, nosotros/as olemos, vosotros/as oléis, ustedes/ellos/ellas huelen (I smell, you smell, you/he/she smell/smells, we smell, you smell, they smell)

Imperfect indicative: yo olía, tú olías, usted/él/ella olía, nosotros/as olíamos, vosotros/as olías, ustedes/ellos/ellas olían (I used to smell, you used to smell, etc.)

Preterite indicative: yo olí, tú oliste, usted/él/ella olió, nosotros/as olimos, vosotros/as olías, ustedes/ello/ellas olían (I smelled, you smelled, etc.)

Future indicative: yo oleré, tú olerás, usted/él/ella olerá, nosotros/as oleremos, vosotros/as oleréis, ustedes/ellos/ellas olerán (I will smell, you will smell, etc.)

Conditional: yo olería, tú olerías, usted/él/ella olería, nosotros/as oleríamos, vosotros/as oleríais, ustedes/ellos/ellas olerían (I would smell, you would smell, etc.)

Present subjunctive: que yo huela, que tú huelas, que usted/él/ella huela, que nosotros/as olamos, que vosotros/as oláis, que ustedes/ellos/ellas huelan (that I smell, that you smell, etc.)

Imperfect subjunctive (more common form): que yo oliera, que tú olieras, que usted/él/ella oliera, que nosotros/as oliéramos, que vosotros/as olierais, que ustedes/ellos/ellas olieran (that I smelled, that you smelled, etc.)

Imperfect subjunctive (less common form): que yo oliese, que tú olieses, que usted/él/ella oliese, que nosotros/as oliésemos, que vosotros/as olieseis, que ustedes/ellos/ellas oliesen (that I smelled, that you smelled, etc.)

Imperative: huele tú, no huelas tú, huela usted, olamos nosotros/as, oled vosotros/as, no oláis vosotros/as, huelan ustedes (Smell! Don't smell! Let's smell! Smell! Don't smell! Smell!)

Compound Conjugations of Oler

Perfect forms of oler use the appropriate form of haber with the part participle, olido. For example, the first-person indicative perfect of oler is he olido (I have smelled).

Progressive (or continuous) forms are formed with the present participle, oliendo, and the appropriate form of estar. For example, the first-person indicative present progressive form of oler is estoy oliendo (I am smelling).

Both past and present participles are conjugated regularly.

Key Takeaways

  • The verb oler can refer to smelling something or to giving off an odor.
  • The phrase oler a is the equivalent of the English phrases "to smell of" and "to smell like."
  • Most forms of oler are conjugated regularly, although the stem changes when stressed.