Verbs of the Senses

This lesson about sense verbs, or verbs of the senses is part of a complete Upper Intermediate (B2) English course. There is an interactive exercise for this topic and a grammar presentation tool in the materials tab.

An illustration of various images showing each of the sense verbs in context. A woman looking through a telescope to illustrate the verb "look", a hand touching a baby to illustrate the verb "feel", a woman sniffing a flower to illustrate "smell", a woman putting a spoonful of sauce in her mouth to illustrate "taste" and a woman listening to music with headphones to illustrate "sound".

What are sense verbs?

Sense verbs are words that we use to describe the actions associated with the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

Sense NounsSense Verbs
Sight / visionLook
Touch Feel
Smell / OlfactorySmell

We also use the verbs seem and appear in the same way as sense verbs, so they are included in this lesson. Appear can be used as a synonym of look, but both seem and appear can be used to describe our thoughts about something.

Using sense verbs with adjectives, nouns & clauses

Sense verbs are combined with adjectives, nouns and clauses in different patters. Here are the patterns for each with examples.

Sense verb patternExample
Verb + adjective“He looks old.”
Verb + noun“She looks like an athlete.”
Verb + as if + clause“He looked as if he had seen a ghost!”
Illustration to exemplify the use of sense verbs in context. Image shows a rugby player with an angry face and the captions "He looks angry", "He looks like a rubgby player" and "he looks as if he is trying to intimidate the other team" as examples of sense verbs combined with adjectives, nouns and clauses.

Verb & adjective combinations

You can use sense verbs directly with adjectives to describe people or things.

Verb + adjective

Here are some examples.

  • It sounds difficult.
  • He looks angry.
  • They look tired.
  • She looks serious.
  • It smells horrible.
  • It tastes delicious.
  • It feels soft.
  • It seems complicated.

Using sense verbs with nouns

Verb + like + noun

  • She looks like a superstar.
  • It feels like plastic.
  • They look like each other.
  • He looks like his brother.
  • She looks like an actress.
  • It tastes like chicken.
  • It sounds like a train.

NOTE: “Feel like” has two different uses. It can be used as a sense verb and noun combination or as a phrasal verb meaning to want or have an appetite for something.

  • “This bag feels like leather.” (sense verb and noun combination)

  • “I feel like a beer.” (“I want a beer”)
  • “I feel like dancing.” (“I want to dance” In this example, a verb is used in the gerund as the object of the verb.)

Using verbs of the senses with clauses

A clause is part of a sentence that works in isolation. In the sentence “She told me that she was angry”, “she was angry” is a clause, it works even when isolated from the rest of the original sentence. A clause always has a subject and a verb.

To use sense verbs with clauses, use the following pattern.

Verb + as if / as though + clause.

  • She looks as if / as though she has lost something.
  • They look as if they have been working hard.
  • It tastes as if you used too much yeast.
  • It smells as if the toast has burned.
  • It smells as if someone has cleaned in here.

In informal English, like is often used in place of as if or as though.

  • They look like they have been working hard.

Using seem & appear

The verbs seem and appear are often used followed by an infinitive.

Seem + infinitive

Here are some examples.

  • It seems to be quite expensive.
  • They seem to have disappeared.
  • She seems to be the boss.


Now try these interactive exercises to check that you have understood this grammar.