English Vocabulary Words for Perceptions of the Five Senses

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Today you’ll learn a great variety of words for describing the perceptions of the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

Sight

If something is easy to see, it can be described as clear or distinct – the opposite of distinct is something that is blurry/blurred.

A blurry photo

A blurry photo

A place where there is very little light is dim, and an area that is protected from light can be described as shadowy.

dim and shadowy

A dim room and a shadowy area

When colors are very strong, we call them bold or vivid colors. The opposite is pale or pastel colors, which are very light. Something that is colorless and rather ugly can be described as drab (usually brown or grey).

bold colors, pastel colors, and drab colors

bold colors, pastel colors, and drab colors

When something has very small dots of a different color, it is speckled – and when the colors are all mixed together and not distinct, it is mottled.

a speckled egg and a mottled bowl

a speckled egg and a mottled bowl

When something is a different color from what it is supposed to be (because it is dirty or damaged) it is discolored. Your teeth can become discolored from coffee, or your ceiling can become discolored due to water damage.

There are a number of words for light – something that emits a steady light is glowing, and something that emits an unsteady light (like a candle) is flickering.

The city lights are glowing; the candle is flickering

The city lights are glowing; the candle is flickering

When an object – such as a crystal – reflects light in a pleasant way, it is sparkling or glittering.

These diamonds are glittering

These diamonds are glittering

Touch

Something that feels slightly wet to the touch is damp or moist. “Damp” has a slightly negative connotation, and “moist” is a little more positive. If your clothes are damp, they haven’t yet dried completely. But a moist cake is a good thing.

The word gummy describes something that is sticky and soft, like chewing gum. A sticky and thick liquid is described as gooey (like honey).

Chewing gum is gummy; honey is gooey

Chewing gum is gummy; honey is gooey

Something that is smooth and pleasant is silky – like the fabric called silk. Something that feels like it is covered with an oily substance is slimy – a word with a disgusting connotation. Worms and slugs are slimy.

silky vs. slimy

silky vs. slimy

Finally, we have things that are soft to the touch. Something like cotton candy that is light and airy is fluffy, and something like a marshmallow which is a little more solid (but still soft and squeezable) is spongy – like a sponge.

Cotton candy is fluffy; marshmallows are spongy

Cotton candy is fluffy; marshmallows are spongy

Smell / Taste

English has different words for good and bad smells. If something is aromatic or fragrant, it smells nice. A noun for a nice smell is a scent. But if something is smelly or stinky, it smells bad. Nouns for unpleasant smells include odor and stench.

Something that tastes good is delicious or tasty. If something looks like it tastes good, then you can describe it as mouthwatering. A food that is full of flavor is said to be rich – but if it has little or no flavor, it is bland or tasteless.

A food that looks like it tastes bad is unappetizing – and something that tastes so bad it can’t be eaten is unpalatable. Sometimes a food has too much of a certain flavor, and in this case you can say the taste or smell is overpowering – so strong you can’t stand it.

When food has gone bad, it tastes and smells rancid, rotten, or spoiled. There’s a specific word for bread/crackers that have passed their validity – these are stale.

Sound

There are tons of words for sounds in English, and many of them sound a little like what they are describing.

We have explosive sounds like boom (for an explosion), bang (for a gunshot or a door slamming), and pop (for a noise like a champagne bottle opening).

A champagne bottle goes "pop"

A champagne bottle goes “pop”

Noises for impacts include crash (a violent and noisy impact, where things are breaking) and thump/thud for a dull, blunt impact, like when you drop a heavy bag on the floor.

Breaking glass makes a crashing sound

Breaking glass makes a crashing sound

Noises with water include a gurgle (the sound of water flowing through a space) and a splash – the sound made when an object/person enters the water.

"Splash" refers to both the sound and the water that flies up

“Splash” refers to both the sound and the water that flies up

Bees make a buzzing sound, machines in operation often make a continuous humming or whirring sound, some clocks tick, and a metallic sound is called a clang.

Bees buzz; machines like a ceiling fan hum or whirr

Bees buzz; machines like a ceiling fan hum or whirr

Finally, a few sounds with air include a hiss (like a snake) and a swish/swoosh/whoosh, which is the sound of something moving fast through the air.

Snakes hiss

Snakes hiss

Pronunciation Practice

blurry, dim, shadowy, vivid, pale, pastel, drab, speckled, mottled, discolored, glowing, flickering, sparkling, glittering, damp, moist, gummy, gooey, silky, slimy, fluffy, spongy, aromatic, fragrant, scent, smelly, stinky, odor, stench, mouthwatering, bland, tasteless, unappetizing, unpalatable, overpowering, rancid, rotten, spoiled, stale, boom, bang, pop, crash, thump, thud, gurgle, splash, buzz, hum, whirr, tick, clang, hiss, swish, swoosh, whoosh

Download the Worksheet

Vocabulary Practice

E-mail me your answers at help@espressoenglish.net !

Besides the examples mentioned in this lesson, name one…

  • thing with pastel colors
  • place that is shadowy
  • thing that is mottled
  • thing that sparkles
  • thing that is gooey
  • animal that is fluffy
  • thing that is fragrant
  • thing that is stinky
  • food that you find mouthwatering
  • food that you find tasteless
  • food that you find unappetizing
  • thing that makes a popping sound
  • thing that makes a thumping sound
  • thing that makes a humming sound
  • thing that makes a hissing sound

This is a free sample lesson from Level 2 of the
Vocabulary Builder Course.

30 Lessons – $30
One-time payment… permanent access

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