Sensory words describe the five senses we have as humans.
In this post, we list sensory words for all five senses and even define each one and how it applies to the sense it’s appealing to.
But first, we’re going to explain what sensory language is.
What are sensory words?
Read this excerpt from Chapter 1 of Salem’s Lot by Stephen King:
“A big BSA cycle with jacked handlebars suddenly roared past him in the passing lane, a kid in a T-shirt driving, a girl in a red cloth jacket and huge mirror-lensed sunglasses riding pillion behind him. They cut in a little too quickly and he overreacted, jamming on his brakes and laying both hands on the horn. The BSA sped up, belching blue smoke from its exhaust, and the girl jabbed her middle finger back at him.”
This passage uses two forms of sensory words, highlighted in bold: sight and hearing.
“Jacked” is the sensory word in “jacked handlebars,” a simple phrase that tells us the bike’s handlebars are raised higher than where they normally rest.
King then uses two sensory words to describe sensory details, specifically the way the bike sounds: “roared” and “belching.”
“Roared” describes the way the bike sounded when it drove past him while “belching” describes the way the bike’s exhaust sounded when the bike sped up.
This is the beauty behind sensory words and how they can really immerse your readers into your writing.
King could have simply said “A big BSA cycle drove past him suddenly in the passing lane,” and “The BSA emitted blue smoke from its exhaust when it sped up.”
By adding in words like “roared” and “belching” and even “jacked handlebars,” King is appealing to your senses to truly make it seem as though you’re in the car with the main character as you listen to a motorcycle “roar” past you and its exhaust “belch” out blue smoke.
Sensory words vs adjectives
So, if sensory words describe something, aren’t they just adjectives? They are, actually, only they’re a type of adjective that serve a specific purpose.
“Adventurous,” “bored” and “rich (monetarily)” are all adjectives, but they don’t appeal to the five senses we have as human beings. While they can certainly help you better understand a topic or subject, they can’t help you visualize them.
In our example excerpt from Salem’s Lot, King uses adjectives like “big” and “blue” to describe what the character sees in the scene.
While these are technically sensory words that appeal to sight, they’re a bit generic and are words you likely already have in your toolkit as a writer.
That’s why we created this post: to give you a much larger frame of reference when it comes to adding sensory words to your work.
Why use sensory words in business writing?
If you’re a blogger, copywriter or marketer, you may be wondering what sensory words have to do with you.
You don’t write novels or similar works. How can something like sensory words help you improve your writing?
Here’s what happens when a novelist like Stephen King uses sensory words to create vivid descriptions in their work: the reader’s imagination comes alive and they become immersed with the story. They can see, hear, smell, feel and taste everything the character sees, hears, smells, feels and tastes.
This encourages them to engage more with the book in every way: reading it all the way through, reviewing it online, maybe making a TikTok or two about it, and even buying other novels by Stephen King.
Sensory words can have a similar effect on business writing, especially boring business blogs, a publication that should feel more natural than traditional business writing.
If you use the same words that Stephen King uses in his writing, you can use sensory writing to captivate your audience well enough to encourage them to engage.
Try adding them to a blog post or two or a few email subject lines to pique your reader’s interest.
The five senses, and the five pillars of sensory words
You already know the five senses, but let’s quickly cover them since they also happen to be a perfect way to categorize sensory words.
The five senses are sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Let’s describe them with sensory language examples.
Sight: What does your scene or subject look like?
Visual sensory words appeal to the sense of sight.
They describe what we can see with our eyes, so well that the reader can visualize what you’re depicting without actually seeing it themselves.
An example of a sight sensory word
Example sentence without sensory word: The room was poorly lit and had very little furniture. He didn’t understand what George saw in the place.
Example sentence with sensory word: The room was gloomy, so gloomy that he could not understand what George saw in the place.
Hearing: What does it sound like?
These words appeal to the reader’s sense of sound.
Therefore, you should use familiar words readers can attribute to a specific sound so they can hear what you’re describing without actually hearing it.
An example of a hearing sensory word
Example sentence without sensory word: Swords made a distinct and persistent metal-on-metal sound as the warriors erupted into a fierce battle.
Example sentence with sensory word: Swords clinked as the warriors erupted into a fierce battle.
Smell: What does it smell like?
Words in the smell category of sensory words appeal to our sense of smell.
Make your readers smell what you’re describing even without being in the same room with it.
An example of a smell sensory word
Example sentence without sensory word: The dog’s odor was bad and could be smelled from across the room. It was as if his fur had never felt a drop of water in his lifetime.
Example sentence with sensory word: The dog had an unpleasant, pungent odor, as if his fur had never felt a drop of water in his lifetime.
Touch: How does it feel, in a physical sense?
Sensory words in this category describe what your subject feels like, physically, not emotionally.
When you use tactile sensory words to describe the way something feels to the touch, your reader should be able to sense that they’ve touched what you’re describing without having to actually touch it themselves.
An example of a touch sensory word
Example sentence without sensory word: The floor felt rough and almost scratchy beneath his feet, as if it was made of sandpaper.
Example sentence with sensory word: The floor felt gritty beneath his feet, as if it was made of sandpaper.
Taste: What does it taste like?
Sensory words in this category should appeal to our sense of taste as humans.
Like the other four categories, they should allow your reader to taste what you’re describing without them actually having to do so.
An example of a taste sensory word
Example sentence without sensory word: The noodles were well seasoned with no sense of sweet or sour within them. They gave the man a sense of satisfaction and fullness he hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Example sentence with sensory word: The noodles were well seasoned and savory, giving the man a sense of satisfaction and fullness he hadn’t felt in a very long time.
165 sensory words for all five senses
Sight sensory words
- Ample – Bountiful in size or capacity
- Ancient – Old or out of style
- Angular – Lean face with notable bone structure
- Billowy – Resembling a wave
- Bizarre – Odd or eccentric in an exaggerated way
- Blazing – On fire in a very right and intense matter
- Bloated – Overfilled and extended in an exaggerated sense, usually with food, liquid or gas
- Blurred – A soft, fog-like visual appearance that obstructs view of a subject
- Branching – Tapering off in multiple directions, resembling tree branches
- Bright – Radiating or illuminating light
- Camouflaged – Blending into an environment a degree where the subject can no longer be seen
- Circular – Rounded to the point where the subject resembles a circle
- Cluttered – Disorganized and messy
- Colossal – Exceptionally large
- Common – Typical or basic in appearance. Can also be used to describe classes, “common” being used for underprivileged individuals
- Crinkled – A distorted appearance that features many bends or ripples
- Dazzling – Illuminating light in a sparkly or colorful sense
- Dingy – Dirty or unclean
- Dull – Lacking light, shine or sparkle
- Elegant – Stylish yet calm and graceful
- Enchanting – Beautiful and stunning in a way that captivates
- Extensive – Very long or wide
- Flashy – A superficial or traditionally attractive display
- Forked – Breaking off from the main into two to four directions, just as the end of a fork does from its handle
- Gleaming – A surface so clean and polished, it shines
- Glimmering – A faint or unsteady shine
- Glistening – Shining with reflected light
- Gloomy – Dark; frowning or scowling when describing a person’s face
- Glowing – Producing light
- Gorgeous – Breathtakingly beautiful
- Grotesque – An extravagant display that departs from the mainstream or what is typical
- Homely – Unattractive or plain by society’s standards
- Immaculate – Perfectly clean and tidy
- Imposing – Large in a way that overwhelms or intimidates
- Lush – Rich or productive
- Lustrous – Reflective light that shines without sparkling
- Majestic – Striking and powerful appearance that resembles the aura of a monarch
- Meandering – A winding path or course
- Minimalist – Plain yet practical
- Neat – Clean and tidy
- Ornate – Decorated in an extravagant or elaborated manner
- Rippling – A wavy appearance
- Spacious – A lot of room and open space
- Stunning – Beautiful in a way that captivates
- Vast – Great in size, degree or intensity
- Venerable – Inciting respect on the basis of age
Sound sensory words
- At full blast – A sound that’s as loud as it can possibly get
- Audible – A sound loud enough to hear
- Bang – A loud and sudden noise that resembles the sound a gun, fireworks or explosive device makes
- Broken – An audible sound that that has pauses or skips where there shouldn’t be
- Buzzing – An annoying sound that resembles the sound of an insect flying
- Chatter – A sound created by multiple sources
- Chiming – A high-pitched ringing noise that’s soft and gentle
- Chirp – A short, high-pitched noise resembling the sound birds make
- Clink – A short, high-pitched noise caused by the sound of metal, glass and ceramic objects hitting one another
- Deafening – A sound that’s so loud, nothing else can be heard over it
- Ear-splitting – A piercing sound that’s so gritty and high pitched, it hurts the ears
- Explosive – A loud and abrupt sound
- Grinding – Noise caused by one object scraping continuously against another object
- Howling – A continuous noise that resembles a wolf’s howl
- Hushed – A sound that’s made to be quieter than it normally would be but is still possible to understand
- Inaudible – A sound you cannot hear
- Insistent – A continuous noise that doesn’t pause
- Mellow – A calm sound that doesn’t get intense or overbearing
- Melodic – A beautiful and serene sound
- Monotonous – A sound that never changes tone, pitch or volume
- Muffled – A sound that’s made to be quieter than it normally would be but in a way where it’s difficult to understand
- Noisy – Nonstop sound
- Peaceful – Quiet and calm
- Pulsating – A sound whose pitch rises and falls in a distinct and continuous pattern
- Pure – A beautiful sound whose tone is clear and not distorted in any way
- Rhythmic – A sound that has a clear and distinct pattern
- Rich – A strong sound that’s loud but in a powerful and pleasant way
- Roaring – A loud and intense sound that resembles an animal’s roar
- Sharp – A sudden, high-pitched noise
- Shrill – An unpleasant and loud high-pitched noise
- Sweet – A soft sound that’s pleasing to the ears
- Thundering – A loud and intense noise that’s deep in tone and booming
Smell sensory words
- Aromatic – A pleasant odor with a strong, distinct scent
- Citrusy – An odor that resembles the scent of citrus fruits, especially oranges
- Comfortable – A pleasant odor that’s familiar
- Crisp – A fresh and clean scent
- Damp – An unpleasant, moldy odor caused by wetness that wasn’t dried quickly or properly
- Delicate – A pleasant odor that’s mild in intensity
- Earthy – An odor that smells natural scents, such as grass or dirt
- Faint – A scent that produces very little odor and is hard to detect
- Feminine – An odor that embodies traditionally feminine scents, such as sweet or floral scents
- Fishy – A strong, unpleasant odor resembling fish or the ocean/large body of water
- Floral – A delightful odor resembling flowers
- Foul – An offensive, unpleasant odor
- Funky – An odor that’s unpleasant but not strong
- Fresh – A word used to describe the way brand new items smell
- Fruity – A sweet odor resembling fruits, but not a distinctive fruit
- Heavy – A strong odor
- Masculine – An odor that embodies traditionally masculine scents, such as pine and earthy scents
- Minty – An odor that smells like peppermint, spearmint, etc.
- Musty – An unpleasant odor, usually attributed to mold, mildew and damp objects
- Nauseating – An odor that’s so offensive, it makes you feel ill
- Odorless – A smell that produces no odor
- Odorous – A smell that produces a strong odor
- Overpowering – An odor that’s so strong, it overwhelms and even overshadows all other odors
- Powerful – A smell with an overwhelming odor
- Pungent – A strong, intense odor. It can be a good or bad smell
- Putrid – A word to describe the odor of something that’s rotten or decaying
- Rancid – A strong and offensive rotten odor, typically used to describe food that’s gone bad
- Rank – A simple word to describe an unpleasant odor
- Reek – A strong, unpleasant odor
- Repulsive – An odor that’s so strong and offensive, you need to get away from it
Touch sensory words
- Blunt – An edge or point that’s dull
- Bumpy – A surface that contains many dull points and “hills”
- Chapped – Cracked and rough texture caused by dryness
- Clammy – The state of being damp and slightly stick to the touch
- Coarse – Rough, abrasive texture that’s slightly gritty
- Elastic – An object that’s stretchy
- Firm – Solid to the point where the object is fixed or secured in place
- Fluffy – A surface that’s soft, airy and almost cloud-like
- Glossy – A surface that’s smooth to the touch, but also reflective in appearance
- Gooey – A thick, sticky liquid, so thick that it’s stretchy
- Gritty – Rough and abrasive in a way where every touch is extremely rough
- Impenetrable – Solid to the point where the object will not open or break
- Itchy – A skin irritation that can only be soothed with special ointments or by rubbing the area
- Limp – A person or object that cannot support itself even as you attempt to hold it
- Lukewarm – Slightly warm, usually used to describe moderately warm water temperature
- Matte – A surface that’s rough to the touch and not reflective
- Moist – Slightly wet
- Mushy – A substance that’s easily squashed when pressed on
- Oily – Wet in a slightly thick and slippery sense
- Prickly – Featuring needle-like structures on the surface that hurt when touched, but usually not to the point where it hurts
- Rocky – An object that’s unstable and wobbly, especially when touched
- Rough – Broken or uneven texture that’s abrasive
- Scalding – Hot to a point where it it immediately burns the skin when touched
- Silky – Soft to a point where your skin glides along the surface
- Slick – A surface that’s slightly wet but still deceptively slippery
- Slimy – A liquid that’s very thick and sticky
- Soggy – An object that feels very damp and limp due to prolonged wetness
- Springy – A surface or object that bounces back into place when manipulated or pressed on
- Sticky – A surface your skin become attached to when touched
- Stiff – Sturdy or difficult to move
- Tender – Sensitive to touch
- Waxy – A surface that resembles wax, which is smooth yet a little rough at the same time
Taste sensory words
- Acidic – Extremely sour
- Acrid – Extremely bitter
- Aged – Flavor that’s been made deeper or richer due to being untouched for a prolonged time, usually used to describe wine, cheese and vanilla extract
- Bitter – A strong, usually offensive taste that is anything but sweet
- Bittersweet – Sweet and bitter at the same time; this adjective is also used to describe situations that are both good and bad
- Brackish – Moderately salty
- Burnt – A bitter flavor created by overcooking food
- Charred – An incredibly intense burnt flavor created by cooking food to a point where it becomes black
- Creamy – A rich flavor created by the addition of cream
- Crisp – A fresh flavor, usually used to describe raw fruits and vegetables
- Delectable – An incredibly delicious taste
- Fruity – A sweet flavor that has hints of fruit
- Hearty – An incredibly savory flavor
- Hot – Very spicy
- Mild – Moderate in flavor; can be used to describe intensity in spice, sweet and sour flavors
- Plain – The absence of flavor, meaning it’s not sweet, salty, sour or spicy
- Robust – A strong, pleasant flavor
- Savory – A flavor marked by salt and spices
- Seasoned – Food that has hints of salt and spices
- Sour – An extreme bitter taste, usually created by citrus or vinegar
- Spicy – A flavor that burns the mouth, throat and stomach, usually created by sauces and seasonings made with hot peppers
- Sweet – A flavor marked by sugar and similar ingredients, such as honey, syrup, etc.
- Tangy – A sharp flavor that lingers, usually used to describe the bittersweet flavor created by oranges
- Tart – A pleasant sour or acidic taste
- Watery – A beverage that’s lost most of its flavor due to the addition of water
That concludes our list of sensory words to add a little flavor to your writing.
Using sensory words not only makes your writing that much more interesting by allowing you to replace ordinary words or boring words, it also creates a vivid description for your reader.
If you truly want your reader to understand how intense or mild a situation is, all you need to do is change a few words to truly let them sense what you’re describing exactly how you mean it.
Be sure to refer to this list when you write.