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bil·​low ˈbi-(ˌ)lō How to pronounce billow (audio)
: wave
especially : a great wave or surge of water
the rolling billows of the sea
: a rolling mass (as of flame or smoke) that resembles a high wave
Billows of smoke poured out of the building.
billows of fog
billowy adjective


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billowed; billowing; billows

intransitive verb

: to rise or roll in waves or surges
the billowing sea
: to bulge or swell out (as through action of the wind)
billowing clouds
… the flags … billowed out in pride …G. B. Oxnam

transitive verb

: to cause to billow
a field of burning grass billowing thick black clouds of smoke into the skyDonald Windham

Examples of billow in a Sentence

Noun Billows of smoke poured out of the burning building. the rolling billows of the sea Verb the curtains in the open windows billowed in the summer wind
Recent Examples on the Web
Father and son, both members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, stare out at a sea of green grass and buffalo berry bushes as a herd of 30 or so bison munch patches of grass, flick their tails at flies, and flop onto the ground, creating brief billows of dust. Christine Peterson, Outdoor Life, 14 Sep. 2023 The videos show the jet exploding into a fireball before black smoke billows into the air, followed by debris scattering on the ground. Michael Lee Simpson, Peoplemag, 18 Aug. 2023 Smoke billows from flames near Lahaina as wildfires driven by high winds destroy a large part of the historic town of Lahaina, Hawaii, U.S. August 9, 2023. Li Cohen, CBS News, 16 Aug. 2023 Video posted to social media of the scene shows part of the crane on fire atop the building as clouds of black smoke billow above. Julianne McShane, NBC News, 26 July 2023 In videos that appear to have been taken at the scene and shared on social media, billows of smoke could be seen rising from the site. Serhiy Morgunov, Washington Post, 18 Aug. 2023 Videos shared with The Times and posted on social media show cars on Front Street crawling in bumper-to-bumper traffic as smoke, embers and debris billow around them. Riley Mellen, New York Times, 15 Aug. 2023 Standing before the multitudes gathered below, who had anxiously awaited the billows of white smoke announcing the selection of a new pope, Francis—formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires—chose not to deliver a formal inaugural address, as previous popes had done. Foreign Affairs, 14 June 2018 Smoke billows across Khartoum amid ongoing fighting on May 15, 2023.AFP - Getty Images At times, just getting to the bus stop was a mission. Yasmine Salam, NBC News, 3 June 2023
To complete the ensemble — styled by Brad Goreski — Moore rocked a billowing, floor-length blue-gray coat, black heels with gold details and a matching black handbag. Bailey Richards, Peoplemag, 20 Sep. 2023 Black smoke billowed from the 18-story Greater Nile Petroleum Oil Company tower on Sunday as fire ripped through the glass facade skyscraper. Nimi Princewill, CNN, 18 Sep. 2023 Smoke from record-breaking Canadian wildfires billowed across the United States, triggering asthma attacks that forced hundreds to seek hospital care. Annie Gowen, Niko Kommenda and Saiyna Bashir, Anchorage Daily News, 5 Sep. 2023 But after the boom came the bust, and the garment billowed out of the mainstream in the decades that followed. Isiah Magsino, Town & Country, 2 Sep. 2023 This photo taken from video provided by the official telegram channel of Pskov region Governor Mikhail Vedernikov showed smoke billowing over the city and a large blaze in Pskov, Russia. Andrew E. Kramer and Victoria Kim,, 30 Aug. 2023 All Americans except Enrico, and look at us, in our linen and sandals, ballooning pants and billowing caftans that hibernated for two years before being brought out into the sun. Andrew Sean Greer, Travel + Leisure, 12 Aug. 2023 Emblazoned in red on their green T-shirt: a family standing between homes and an industrial building billowing smoke. Justine Calma, The Verge, 14 Sep. 2023 Television images showed firefighters equipped with hoses and ladders at the scene by night, while a column of thick, dark smoke billowed from the building by day. Reuters, CNN, 13 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'billow.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun and Verb

Old Norse bylgja; akin to Old High German balg bag — more at belly

First Known Use


1552, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1592, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of billow was in 1552

Dictionary Entries Near billow

Cite this Entry

“Billow.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
bil·​low ˈbil-ō How to pronounce billow (audio)
: wave entry 2 sense 1
especially : a large wave
: a rolling mass like a high wave
billows of smoke


2 of 2 verb
: to rise or roll in waves
the billowing ocean
: to bulge or swell out
sails billowing in the breeze

More from Merriam-Webster on billow

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