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verb win·now \ˈwi-(ˌ)nō\

Simple Definition of winnow

  • : to remove (people or things that are less important, desirable, etc.) from a larger group or list : to make (a list of possible choices) smaller by removing the less desirable choices

  • : to remove (the unwanted coverings of seeds) from grain by throwing the grain up in the air and letting the wind blow the unwanted parts away

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of winnow

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 a (1) :  to remove (as chaff) by a current of air (2) :  to get rid of (something undesirable or unwanted) :  remove —often used with out <winnow out certain inaccuracies — Stanley Walker> b (1) :  separate, sift <an old hand at winnowing what is true and significant — Oscar Lewis> (2) :  select

  3. 2 a :  to treat (as grain) by exposure to a current of air so that waste matter is eliminated b :  to free of unwanted or inferior elements :  pare c :  narrow, reduce <winnowed the field to four contenders>

  4. 3 :  to blow on :  fan <the wind winnowing his thin white hair — Time>

  5. intransitive verb
  6. 1 :  to separate chaff from grain by fanning

  7. 2 :  to separate desirable and undesirable elements

winnower play \ˈwi-nə-wər\ noun

Examples of winnow in a sentence

  1. The least qualified applicants were winnowed out of the initial pool.

  2. Harvesters winnowed the chaff from the wheat.

Did You Know?

Beginning as windwian in Old English, winnow first referred to the removal of chaff from grain by a current of air. This use was soon extended to describe the removal of anything undesirable or unwanted (a current example of this sense would be "winnowing out outdated information"). People then began using the word for the selection of the most desirable elements (as in "winnowing out the qualified applicants"). The association of winnow with the movement of air led to the meanings "to brandish" and "to beat with or as if with wings," but those uses are now rare. The last meanings blew in at the turn of the 19th century. They are "to blow on" and "to blow in gusts."

Origin of winnow

Middle English winewen, from Old English windwian to fan, winnow; akin to Old High German wintōn to fan, Latin vannus winnowing fan, ventus wind — more at wind

First Known Use: before 12th century

Rhymes with winnow

aglow, ago, airflow, airglow, air show, alow, although, archfoe, argot, a throw, backflow, backhoe, bandeau, Baotou, barlow, bateau, below, bestow, big toe, bon mot, bravo, by-blow, cachepot, callow, caló, Carlow, cash flow, chapeau, Chi-Rho, cockcrow, Cocteau, cornrow, corn snow, crossbow, Cousteau, Darrow, Day-Glo, dayglow, death row, Defoe, de trop, deathblow, deco, down-bow, dumb show, elbow, escrow, fencerow, flambeau, floor show, flyblow, fogbow, forego, foreknow, forgo, freak show, free throw, Freneau, Fuzhou, galop, game show, genro, gigot, Glencoe, go-slow, Gounod, Guangzhou, gung ho, guyot, Hadow, Hangzhou, Hankow, Harrow, heave-ho, hedgerow, heigh-ho, hello, hollo, horse show, ice floe, ice show, inflow, in tow, Io, jabot, jambeau, Jane Doe, jim crow, Jinzhou, Joe Blow, Jiaozhou, John Doe, Juneau, Hounslow, kayo, KO, Lanzhou, lie low, light show, longbow, low blow, Luchow, macho, mahoe, maillot, mallow, manteau, Marlowe, Marot, marrow, matelot, merlot, Meursault, minnow, Miró, misknow, Moho, mojo, morceau, morrow, Moscow, mucro, mudflow, Murrow, nightglow, no-no, no-show, nouveau, oboe, outflow, outgo, outgrow, oxbow, peep show, Pernod, picot, plateau, pronto, Quanzhou, quiz show, rainbow, Rameau, red snow, reflow, regrow, repo, reseau, road show, rondeau, rondo, roscoe, Roseau, rouleau, sabot, Saint-Lô, salchow, scarecrow, self-sow, serow, shadblow, Shantou, sideshow, skid row, ski tow, Soho, so-so, sound bow, sourdough, stone's throw, sunbow, Suzhou, tableau, Taizhou, talk show, tiptoe, Thoreau, tone row, tonneau, trade show, trousseau, Trudeau, uh-oh, unsew, up-bow, upthrow, van Gogh, wallow, Wenzhou, Wicklow, widow, willow, windrow, windthrow, Winslow, Wuzhou, Xuzhou, Yalow, yarrow, Zhangzhou, Zhengzhou, Zibo



noun win·now

Definition of winnow

  1. 1 :  a device for winnowing

  2. 2 a :  the action of winnowing b :  a motion resembling that of winnowing


First Known Use of winnow


Other Agriculture/Gardening Terms

WINNOW Defined for Kids


verb win·now \ˈwi-nō\

Definition of winnow for Students


  1. 1 :  to remove (as waste from grain) by a current of air

  2. 2 :  to sort or separate from a larger group

Learn More about winnow

Seen and Heard

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to manage or play awkwardly

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