583 Sensory Words to Take Your Writing from Bland to Brilliant

Welcome to our massive list of sensory words — your comprehensive resource for adding vivid sensory details to your prose.

It’s almost too easy.

By using sensory words to evoke the sense of sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell; smart and attractive writers just like you are able to make their words burst to life in their reader’s mind.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • The science behind sensory details (e.g. why sensory images and words are so persuasive);
  • The definition of sensory details (plus examples);
  • How answering five simple questions will help you write descriptive details that pack your content with sensory language;
  • 500+ sensory words you can incorporate into your own vocabulary and writing (right now).

Let’s dive in.

Free Bonus: Click here to get all 583 sensory words delivered to your inbox (for free).

The Colossal Power of Sensory Details

Remember the final scene in Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella has a catch with his dad?

You can smell the grass on the field.

You can hear the sound of the baseball hitting their gloves.

And you can feel Ray’s years of guilt melting away as he closes his eyes, smiles, and tosses the ball back to his dad.

(Be honest. You’re crying right now, aren’t you?)

Field of Dreams made you feel like you were in Ray’s shoes, on his field, playing catch with dad.

The scene creates such a vivid sensory experience for many viewers that whenever they think of playing catch, this scene will come up alongside their own childhood memories.

Here’s why:

When you paint a strong scene in your reader’s imagination, you make it easier for them to pull it back up from their memory. You’ve essentially bookmarked it for them so they can easily find it when something — a sight, a smell, a sound — reminds them of it.

That’s the power of content that incorporates sensory details.

And this power isn’t limited to cinema classics capable of making grown men cry. For centuries, literary giants have been packing their prose and poetry with power words that evoke the senses:

“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial”
— William Shakespeare (circa 1599)

In addition to The Bard, authors like Maya Angelou, Edgar Allan Poe, and Charles Dickens excel at sensory writing. So do literally every famous poet you learned about in school.

And that begs the obvious question…

Why are Sensory Details so Effective?

Short answer:

The brains of human beings handle sensory words differently than ordinary words.

In a 2011 study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, experts found that our brains process “tangible” (i.e. sensory) words faster than other words.

And in a study published for Brain and Language in 2012, psychologists found that a certain part of our brain is “activated” when we read sensory words.

In other words:

So, we know why sensory details are powerful. And we know writers have been tapping into their power for a long, long time.

Now let’s define them and go over a few examples:

Let’s break each one down:

1. Sight Sensory Words

Sight words are related to vision and describe the appearance of something (its color, size, shape, and so on).

Sight word examples:

  • Her golden hair looked disheveled thanks to the gust of wind.
  • He was a towering presence.
  • I ordered a large orange juice, but the waiter brought me a teeny-tiny glass the size of a thimble.

Click here to see all 185 sight sensory words

2. Sound Sensory Words

Words related to hearing often describe the sound they make (known as onomatopoeia), but this isn’t always the case.

Examples of hearing words:

  • He had a big, booming voice.
  • The sound of screeching tires was soon followed by the deafening sound of a car horn.
  • As I peeked under the bed, the cackling laughter coming from the closet made the hairs on my arms stand up.

Click here to see all 161 sound sensory words

3. Touch Sensory Words

Touch words describe the texture of how something feels. They can also describe emotional feelings.

Examples of touch words:

  • Two minutes into the interview, I knew his abrasive personality would be an issue if we hired him.
  • With a forced smile, I put on the itchy Christmas sweater my grandmother bought me.
  • The Hot Pocket was scalding on the outside, but ice-cold in the middle.

Click here to see all 123 touch sensory words

4. Taste Sensory Words

Taste words are interesting. Though they can describe food, and tease your taste buds with their deliciousness, they’re often used in comparisons and metaphors.

Examples of taste words:

  • It’s a bittersweet situation.
  • Her zesty personality caught Karl’s eye.
  • The scrumptious jalapeno poppers comforted Karl after his bitter rejection.

Click here to see all 51 taste sensory words

  1. Acidic
  2. Appetizing
  3. Bitter
  4. Bittersweet
  5. Bland
  6. Buttery
  7. Charred
  8. Contaminated
  9. Creamy
  10. Crispy
  11. Delectable
  12. Delicious
  13. Doughy
  14. Earthy
  15. Fermented
  16. Flavorful
  17. Flavorless
  18. Floury
  19. Garlicky
  20. Gingery
  21. Gritty
  22. Hearty
  23. Juicy
  24. Luscious
  25. Medicinal
  26. Mellow
  27. Melted
  28. Nauseating
  29. Nutritious
  30. Nutty
  31. Palatable
  32. Peppery
  33. Pickled
  34. Piquant
  35. Raw
  36. Refreshing
  37. Rich
  38. Ripe
  39. Salted
  40. Savory
  41. Scrumptious
  42. Stale
  43. Sugary
  44. Syrupy
  45. Tangy
  46. Tart
  47. Tasteless
  48. Unripe
  49. Vinegary
  50. Yummy
  51. Zesty

5. Smell Sensory Words

Words related to smell describe — yes, you guessed it — how things smell. Often underutilized, sensory words connected with smell can be very effective.

Examples of smell words:

  • The pungent smell was unmistakable: someone in this elevator was wearing Axe Body Spray.
  • No matter the expiration date, it was clear from its rancid stench the milk had gone bad.
  • The flowery aroma was a welcome change after the elevator and milk incidents.

Click here to see all 47 smell sensory words

  1. Ambrosial
  2. Antiseptic
  3. Aroma
  4. Aromatic
  5. Briny
  6. Citrusy
  7. Decayed
  8. Decomposed
  9. Doggy
  10. Fetid
  11. Floral
  12. Flowery
  13. Foul-smelling
  14. Fragrant
  15. Gamy
  16. Gaseous
  17. Horrid
  18. Inodorous
  19. Malodorous
  20. Mephitic
  21. Musky
  22. Musty
  23. Odiferous
  24. Odor
  25. Odorless
  26. Old
  27. Perfumed
  28. Piney
  29. Polluted
  30. Pungent
  31. Putrid
  32. Rancid
  33. Rank
  34. Redolent
  35. Reeking
  36. Scent
  37. Scented
  38. Sickly
  39. Skunky
  40. Smell
  41. Smoky
  42. Stagnant
  43. Stench
  44. Stinky
  45. Sweaty
  46. Tempting
  47. Whiff

Bonus: Taste and Smell Sensory Words

Because they’re closely related, some sensory words can be used for both taste and smell. Examples: fruity, minty, and tantalizing.

Click here to see all 16 taste & smell sensory words

  1. Acrid
  2. Burnt
  3. Fishy
  4. Fresh
  5. Fruity
  6. Lemony
  7. Minty
  8. Moldy
  9. Mouth-watering
  10. Rotten
  11. Salty
  12. Sour
  13. Spicy
  14. Spoiled
  15. Sweet
  16. Tantalizing

Next, we’ll look at a few real-world examples of sensory details.

Sensory Details: Examples in the Wild

Imagine the following headline came across your Twitter feed:

How to Avoid Using Boring Stock Photo Images in Your Content

Would you click it?

Better question…

Could you read the headline without falling asleep?

The answers are probably “no” and “heck no.”

Now imagine you saw this headline:

Sensory Words in Headlines

Much better, right?

The simple addition of the sensory word “cringeworthy” changes the tone of the entire headline. Instead of yawning, you’re thinking of an awkward or embarrassing moment you really don’t want to relive.

Let’s look at a few more modern-day examples of sharp people using sensory language to spruce up their content:

Using Sensory Words in Author Bios

I’ll pick on me for this one.

Here’s one of my old author bios:

Kevin J. Duncan is the Editor of Smart Blogger, where he helps writers learn the skills they need to land writing gigs that pay.

Now look at the author bio my friend Henneke wrote for Writer’s Block: 27 Techniques to Overcome It Forever:

Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and business writing coach. She’s on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and to make boring business blogs sparkle.

My bio is devoid of sensory words (or any interesting words at all, if we’re being honest).

Henneke’s is chock full of them.

Her bio is interesting.

Mine is boring.

The lesson? Add at least one sensory word to your author bio.

Using Sensory Words in Social Media Profiles

Some people opt for brevity when writing their social media profiles, and that’s fine.

But if you want your Twitter profile (or Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media profile) to stand out from the crowd, sprinkle in a sensory word or two.

Like so:

Sensory Words in Twitter Profiles

Mel Wicks is a veteran copywriter who knows a thing or two about the effectiveness of descriptive detail, so she uses them to spice up her Twitter profile.

Here’s an example from my badly-neglected Instagram account:

Sensory Words in Instagram Profile

“Enchanting” and “adorably-jubilant” are wonderful sensory words — so wonderful, it’s a shame they’re wasted on a profile no one sees.

Look at your own profiles and see if there’s a place to add a sensory word or two. They’ll help your profile jump off the screen.

Heck, see if you can use enchanting and adorably-jubilant.

They deserve to be seen.

Using Sensory Words in Introductions

The opening lines of your content are so important.

If you’re a student, your opening sets the tone for your teacher (who we both know is dying to use his red pen).

If you’re an author, your opening can be the difference between someone buying (and reading) your book or putting it back on the shelf in favor of one of those Twilight books (probably).

And if you’re a blogger, writer, content marketer, or business; your opening sentence can hook the reader’s interest (increasing dwell time, which is great in Google’s eyes) or send them scurrying for the “back” button.

It’s why we put such an emphasis on introductions here at Smart Blogger.

Sometimes our openings hook you with a question.

Sometimes we strike a note of empathy or (like this blog post) focus on searcher intent.

And sometimes we give you a heaping helping of sensory words:

Imagine you’re sitting in a lounge chair on the beach, staring out over the glittering sea, the ocean breeze ruffling your hair, listening to the slow, steady rhythm of the waves.

In the above opening for How to Become a Freelance Writer, Starting from Scratch, Jon Morrow uses figurative language to set a scene for the reader.

And it’s highly, highly effective.

Using Sensory Words in Email Subject Lines

Like you, your readers are flooded with emails.

And with open rates in a steady decline, people are trying anything and everything to make their email subject lines stand out:

  • Emojis;
  • Capitalized words;
  • All lowercase letters;
  • Two exclamation points;
  • Clickbait that would make even BuzzFeed go, “that’s too far, man.”

You name it, people are trying it.

Want a simpler, far-more-effective way to help your emails stand out from the crowd?

Add a sensory detail.

Brian Dean loves to include words like “boom” in his subjects:

Sensory Words in Email Subjects

The folks at AppSumo and Sumo (formerly SumoMe) regularly feature descriptive words in their subjects and headlines.

Here’s one example:

Sensory Words in Email Subjects

And sensory language appears in most everything Henneke writes, including her subject lines.

In this one she also uses an emoji related to her sensory word. Very clever:

Sensory Words in Email Subjects

Now that we’ve covered several examples, let’s dig a bit deeper…

Let’s discuss some practical steps you can take that will make adding figurative language to your own writing style a breeze:

How Descriptive Details Can Pack Your Writing With Sensory Language

If you’ve taken a good English or creative writing class, you’ve probably been told a time or two to “show, don’t tell.”

This means you should create an engaging experience for your audience; not just tell them what you want them to know.

You accomplish this by using descriptive writing that conveys sensations and lets readers experience your words (rather than simply read them).

And how do you do that, exactly?

Ask yourself these five questions when you’re writing:

#1. What Do You See?

It isn’t enough to tell your readers there was a scary house in your neighborhood when you were a child. Describe the house to them in vivid sensory detail.

What shade of gray was it?

Were the doors boarded up?

Precisely how many ghostly figures did you and the neighbor kids see staring at you from the upstairs bedroom windows, and how many are standing behind you right now?

Paint a mental image for your readers.

#2. What Do You Hear?

We listen to uptempo songs to push us through cardio workouts. Many of us listen to rainfall when we’re trying to sleep. Some of us listen to Justin Bieber when we want to punish our neighbors.

Want to transplant readers into your literary world?

Talk about the drip, drip, drip of the faucet.

Mention the squeaking floors beneath your feet.

Describe the awful music coming from your next-door neighbor’s house.

#3. How Does it Feel?

Touch sensory words can convey both tactile and emotional sensations.

Can you describe to the reader how something feels when touched? Is it smooth or rough? Round or flat? Is it covered in goo or is it goo-less?

Paint a picture for your reader so they can touch what you’re touching.

The same goes for emotion. Help the reader feel what you (or your character) are feeling. Draw them in.

#4. What Does it Taste Like?

Does the beach air taste salty? Is the roaring fire so intense you can taste the smoke? Is the smell of your roommate’s tuna fish sandwich so strong you can taste it from across the room?

Tell your audience.

Be descriptive.

Make them taste the fishiness.

#5. How Does it Smell?

It wasn’t a basement you walked into — it was a musty, moldy basement.

And you didn’t simply enjoy your Mom’s homemade lasagna. You inhaled the aromatic scents of sauce, cheese, and basil.

Evoking the sense of smell is possibly the most effective way to pull readers out of their world and into yours.

So when you sit down to write, ask yourself if it’s possible to describe how something smells. And if you can? Do it.

The Massive Sensory Words List: 583 (and Counting) Descriptive Words to Supercharge Your Writing With Sensory Language

Once you’ve asked and answered the five questions above, your writing will be packed with sensory details.

In time, you’ll build up your own massive list of sensory words you can reference and sprinkle throughout your work (no thesaurus needed!).

But in the meantime, here’s my list.

Bookmark them.

Print them.

Freebie: Click here to download a handy PDF for all 583 sensory words.

Use them often:

Angular Babble
Azure Bang
Billowy Barking
Black Bawled
Bleary Bawling
Bloated Bellow
Blonde Blare
Blue Blaring
Blurred Bleat
Blushing Boom
Branching Booming
Bright Bray
Brilliant Buzz
Broad Buzzing
Brown Cackle
Brunette Cackling
Bulbous Chatter
Bulky Chattering
Camouflaged Cheer
Chubby Chiming
Circular Chirping
Colorful Chuckle
Colorless Clamor
Colossal Clang
Contoured Clanging
Cosmic Clap
Craggy Clapping
Crimson Clicking
Crinkled Clink
Crooked Clinking
Crowded Cooing
Crystalline Coughing
Curved Crackle
Dark Crackling
Dazzling Crashing
Deep Creak
Dim Croaking
Dingy Crow
Disheveled Crunch
Distinct Crunching
Drab Crunchy
Dreary Cry
Dull Crying
Dusty Deafening
Elegant Distorted
Enchanting Dripping
Engaging Ear-piercing
Enormous Earsplitting
Faded Exploding
Fancy Faint
Fat Fizzing
Filthy Gagging
Flashy Gasping
Flat Giggle
Flickering Giggling
Foggy Grate
Forked Grating
Freckled Growl
Fuzzy Grumble
Gargantuan Grunt
Gaudy Grunting
Gigantic Guffaw
Ginormous Gurgle
Glamorous Gurgling
Gleaming Hanging
Glimpse Hiss
Glistening Hissing
Glitter Honking
Glittering Howl
Globular Hubbub
Gloomy Hum
Glossy Humming
Glowing Hush
Gold Jabber
Graceful Jangle
Gray Jangling
Green Laughing
Grotesque Moaning
Hazy Monotonous
Hollow Mooing
Homely Muffled
Huge Mumble
Illuminated Mumbling
Immense Murmur
Indistinct Mutter
Ivory Muttering
Knotty Noisy
Lacy Peeping
Lanky Piercing
Large Ping
Lavender Pinging
Lean Plopping
Lithe Pop
Little Purring
Lofty Quacking
Long Quiet
Low Rant
Malnourished Rapping
Maroon Rasping
Massive Raucous
Miniature Rave
Misshapen Ringing
Misty Roar
Motionless Roaring
Mottled Rumble
Mountainous Rumbling
Muddy Rustle
Murky Rustling
Narrow Scratching
Obtuse Scream
Olive Screaming
Opaque Screech
Orange Screeching
Oval Serene
Pale Shout
Peered Shouting
Petite Shrieking
Pink Shrill
Portly Sigh
Pristine Silent
Prodigious Sing
Purple Singing
Quaint Sizzling
Radiant Slam
Rectangular Slamming
Red Snap
Reddish Snappy
Rippling Snoring
Rotund Snort
Round Splashing
Ruby Squawking
Ruddy Squeaky
Rusty Stammer
Sabotaged Stomp
Shadowy Storm
Shallow Stuttering
Shapeless Tearing
Sheer Thudding
Shimmering Thump
Shiny Thumping
Short Thunder
Silver Thundering
Skinny Ticking
Small Tingling
Smudged Tinkling
Soaring Twitter
Sparkling Twittering
Sparkly Wail
Spherical Warbling
Spotless Wheezing
Spotted Whimper
Square Whimpering
Steep Whine
Stormy Whining
Straight Whir
Strange Whisper
Striped Whispering
Sunny Whistle
Swooping Whooping
Tall Yell
Tapering Yelp
Abrasive Acidic
Balmy Appetizing
Biting Bitter
Boiling Bittersweet
Breezy Bland
Bristly Buttery
Bubbly Charred
Bubby Contaminated
Bumpy Creamy
Burning Crispy
Bushy Delectable
Chilled Delicious
Chilly Doughy
Clammy Earthy
Coarse Fermented
Cold Flavorful
Cool Flavorless
Cottony Floury
Crawly Garlicky
Creepy Gingery
Cuddly Gritty
Cushioned Hearty
Damp Juicy
Dank Luscious
Dirty Medicinal
Downy Mellow
Drenched Melted
Dry Nauseating
Elastic Nutritious
Feathery Nutty
Feverish Palatable
Fine Peppery
Fleshy Pickled
Fluff Piquant
Fluffy Raw
Foamy Refreshing
Fragile Rich
Freezing Ripe
Furry Salty/Salted
Glassy Savory
Gluey Scrumptious
Gooey Stale
Grainy Sugary
Greasy Syrupy
Gritty Tangy
Gushy Tart
Hairy Tasteless
Heavy Unripe
Hot Vinegary
Humid Yummy
Ice-Cold Zesty
Ambrosial Acrid
Antiseptic Burnt
Aroma Fishy
Aromatic Fresh
Briny Fruity
Citrusy Lemony
Decayed Minty
Decomposed Moldy
Doggy Mouth-watering
Fetid Rotten
Floral Salty
Flowery Sour
Foul-smelling Spicy
Fragrant Spoiled
Gamy Sweet
Gaseous Tantalizing

Are You Ready to Unleash the Power of Sensory Details?

It’s time to say goodbye.

Goodbye to lifeless, boring words that sit on the page.

Goodbye to indifferent readers ready to move on to something, anything, else.

You now know why sensory details are so effective. You know how to sprinkle descriptive words and phrases throughout your content. And you now have a massive, ever-growing list of sensory words to bookmark and come back to again and again.

Variations of the following quote have been attributed to everyone from Carl W. Buehner to Maya Angelou, but regardless of who said it, and how they said it, it’s true:

“People may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

It’s time to make your readers feel.

Are you ready?

Then let’s do this thing.

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