bil·​low | \ ˈbi-(ˌ)lō How to pronounce billow (audio) \

Definition of billow

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : wave especially : a great wave or surge of water the rolling billows of the sea
2 : a rolling mass (as of flame or smoke) that resembles a high wave Billows of smoke poured out of the building. billows of fog


billowed; billowing; billows

Definition of billow (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to rise or roll in waves or surges the billowing sea
2 : 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 sky— Donald Windham

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Other Words from billow


billowy \ ˈbi-​lə-​wē How to pronounce billowy (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for billow

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

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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
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The fire also released billows of toxic lead dust into the atmosphere, not only posing serious health concerns, but also causing delays to the repairs process. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian Magazine, "Is Notre-Dame Too Fragile to Be Saved?," 24 Dec. 2019 Chris Morocco’s new recipe is, of course, flawless: velvety, pucker-inducing lemon filling, gooey billows of sweet meringue, and a golden-brown blind-baked pie crust. Sarah Jampel, Bon Appétit, "Lemon Meringue Pie Is the Only Thing on the Thanksgiving Table I Care About," 5 Nov. 2019 And when a cloud of fumigation billows in from outside, an excited Ki-taek insists on keeping the windows open to take advantage of the free insecticide. New York Times, "‘Parasite’ Review: The Lower Depths Rise With a Vengeance," 10 Oct. 2019 Chicago also played with smoke, photographing colorful billows in the desert and other locations. Washington Post, "Longchamp doesn’t want to be remembered as just French," 7 Sep. 2019 Former hotels and condominiums sit boarded up and rotting, their wooden staircases collapsing and disappearing beneath billows of vines. Wade Graham, Smithsonian, "Why Molokai, With All Its Wonders, Is the Least Developed of Hawai’i’s Islands," 31 Aug. 2019 Beef fajitas were all sizzle and no spice, laid out on an iron platter spitting oil through billows of steam. Mike Sutter,, "Review: Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine restaurant is mid-level Mexican food in San Antonio’s Stone Oak," 22 Aug. 2019 As billows of smoke filled the Hawaiian sky, Twitter users made their appeals to Winfrey to gain access to her private road. Fox News, "Oprah Winfrey 'immediately' granted access to private road for Hawaii fire evacuations, she says," 12 July 2019 Video footage of the crash posted on Facebook shows people walking away from the plane as thick clouds of smoke billow from the wreckage. Mahita Gajanan, Time, "Dale Earnhardt Jr. and His Family Survived a Plane Crash in Tennessee. Here's What to Know," 16 Aug. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Two black bodies are dragged behind a speeding car, clouds of dirt billowing in their wake. Victor Luckerson, The New Yorker, "The Great Achievement of “Watchmen” Is in Showing How Black Americans Shape History," 13 Dec. 2019 The billowing black smoke from the fire gave way to a trail of white as the tank and metal debris shot above the factory, video from Turkish broadcaster Haber Global showed. Fox News, "Turkey chemical factory explosion launches metal tank into sky above fleeing onlookers, video shows," 19 Sep. 2019 New satellite images show huge clouds of smoke billowing across uninhabited land in Greenland, Siberia and parts of Alaska. Isabelle Gerretsen, CNN, "'Unprecedented' wildfires ravage the Arctic," 24 July 2019 The movie is West at his most pompous and arty, with long shots of dandelions blowing in the breeze, a deer scampering through a field, dark clouds billowing over mountains. Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY, "Kanye West's 'Jesus is King' is spiritual, self-indulgent – and delayed yet again," 25 Oct. 2019 Plumes of smoke billowed over the Lebanese capital Beirut as nation-wide economic protests continued into Friday night and protesters burned barricades on the country's main roads. Tamara Qiblawi, CNN, "Lebanon's Hariri gives opponents 72 hours to find economic solutions as protests grow," 18 Oct. 2019 Tomei emotes up a storm more brooding even than the clouds billowing over the Louisiana Gulf Coast in Lucy Mackinnon's atmospheric wraparound projections. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Rose Tattoo': Theater Review," 16 Oct. 2019 Flames at the encampment got out of control about 5:20 p.m., sending black smoke billowing over the area near Pershing Street, according to CHP and fire officials. Pauline Repard, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Homeless campfire spreads under downtown freeway overpasses," 14 July 2019 The fire sent black smoke billowing over the area, officials said. Ethan Baron, The Mercury News, "Injured firefighter who fought 3-alarm Pittsburg blaze out of hospital," 23 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'billow.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of billow


1552, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1592, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1

History and Etymology for billow

Noun and Verb

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

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Time Traveler for billow

Time Traveler

The first known use of billow was in 1552

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Statistics for billow

Last Updated

9 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Billow.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 25 January 2020.

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More Definitions for billow


How to pronounce billow (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of billow

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a moving cloud or mass of smoke, steam, etc.
literary + old-fashioned : a large wave



English Language Learners Definition of billow (Entry 2 of 2)

: to move as a large cloud or mass
: to be pushed outward by air
literary + old-fashioned : to rise or roll in waves


bil·​low | \ ˈbi-lō How to pronounce billow (audio) \

Kids Definition of billow

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a large wave … the billows rose and fell unbroken.— Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
2 : a moving cloud or mass (as of smoke or flame)


billowed; billowing

Kids Definition of billow (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to rise or roll in large waves the billowing ocean
2 : to move as a large cloud or mass Smoke billowed from the chimney.
3 : to bulge or swell out Sails billowed in the breeze.

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More from Merriam-Webster on billow

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for billow

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with billow

Spanish Central: Translation of billow

Nglish: Translation of billow for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of billow for Arabic Speakers

Comments on billow

What made you want to look up billow? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


dull or mediocre

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