Is there any verb to express the 'voluntary/involuntary' aspect of the sensations of Taste, Smell and Touch as there is for Sight (to look/to see) and for Hearing (to listen/to hear)?

Is there a specific word to (scholarly) point out this distinction?

  • 3
    Can you say where you need this list? You could eat or taste, sniff or smell, touch or feel. Jan 26, 2021 at 5:18
  • I'm not sure that it's a matter of voluntary/involuntary because all the senses are involuntary. It's more a matter of paying attention to what the involuntary sense is telling you; so you might use to taste and to savour, perhaps. There will be many words for touch and probably few for smell.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 26, 2021 at 7:36
  • @YosefBaskin out of mere curiosity. Feel feels like the involuntary version for any sense, doesn't it ?
    – Anton
    Jan 26, 2021 at 13:43
  • @Anton: "Feel" is not the involuntary version for any sense. "I felt a meteor streak across the sky" only works if the ground shakes. While "feel" is used metaphorically for sensations other than touch, so is "see" — "It was then that I saw that he hated me" doesn't involve anybody's eyes. Jan 26, 2021 at 14:09
  • 2
    Yes, there is such a distinction. Sense verbs fall into three categories: see, hear, feel, smell, taste are Non-Volitional; you receive the sensory input without trying to. Look, listen, feel, smell, taste (note the last 3 are always the same and therefore ambiguous) are Volitional; you do them on purpose. Finally, there are the Flip verbs, which have the stimulus rather than the experiencer as subject: look, sound, feel, smell, taste. Ee.g: I saw it/I looked at it/It looks nice, I heard it/I listened to it/It sounded nice, etc. Mar 23, 2021 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


It is a hard question for a learner of English, but I will dare an answer. I do not think there are special verbs for those sensations that stipulate whether they arise from a voluntary action of the receiver, but English—as I believe nearly any language—has means of expressing this distinction.

If you say I tasted the wine, She touched my hand, or The wolf smelled the air, the voluntary aspect will be obvious. Conversely, you can say Suddenly a taste blood was in my mouth, I felt a spider crawl up my shin, or The fragrance of dame's violets welcomed me to the benighted park, and your reader or listener will easily understand the external causes of the same senses.

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