bil·​low | \ˈbi-(ˌ)lō \

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 \ adjective

Synonyms for billow

Synonyms: Noun

surge, swell, wave

Synonyms: Verb

bag, balloon, beetle, belly, bulge, bunch, jut, overhang, poke, pooch [chiefly dialect], pouch, pout, project, protrude, stand out, start, stick out, swell

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Examples of billow in a Sentence


Billows of smoke poured out of the burning building. the rolling billows of the sea


the curtains in the open windows billowed in the summer wind
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

From the blazing buildings crimson and golden tongues of flame arose that illuminated the rising billows of smoke. Mary Horlock, Longreads, "The Camouflage Artist: Two Worlds Wars, Two Loves, and One Great Deception," 21 June 2018 Pasadena is struggling to end suicides from the span without diminishing its historic beauty From its western entrance, Pasadena’s Colorado Street Bridge billows gently to the left 150 feet above the Arroyo Seco. Matthew Segal, Los Angeles Magazine, "The Complicated Case of the Colorado Street Bridge," 18 June 2018 There’s a faint whirring noise as the blade sinks into the skeleton, and clouds of coral dust billow in the surrounding water. Elizabeth Svoboda, Scientific American, "Cores from Coral Reefs Hold Secrets of the Seas’ Past and Future," 6 June 2018 Boot-heel billows of trail dust from a gravel parking lot. Mike Sutter, San Antonio Express-News, "Review: Love or something like it at Texas 46 BBQ," 31 May 2018 AThe hydrochloric acid steam cloud billows into the air, along with fine particles of glass. John Bacon, USA TODAY, "Hawaii on edge as lava reaches power plant: 'No one has faced this before'," 22 May 2018 The big brawls occur inside cartoon-style billows of smoke. Colin Covert, idahostatesman, "Wes Anderson’s animated ‘Isle of Dogs’ is a delight with bite | Idaho Statesman," 12 Apr. 2018 And for me, this steamy, dreamy, hunger-inducing billow of exotic mist – rising up into the atmosphere from dozens of tabletop pots bubbling in the dining room – offered the promise of a new adventure. Craig Laban,, "Warming up to Chinese hot pot at Little Sheep," 5 Apr. 2018 After placing the 11 objects on outcroppings adorning one of the statues designed by Chicago artist Dave Carlson, the Seekers watched steam billow from pipes overhead as a lullaby-like tune played. Eric Thurm, WIRED, "An Alternate Reality Game That Takes Freshmen Orientation to a New Level," 25 Mar. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Featuring a high ruffle neck, billowing off-the-shoulder sleeves, and a full skirt, the ornate gown is an archival runway look from McQueen's Fall 2013 collection, which was designed by current creative director Sarah Burton. Lauren Alexis Fisher, Harper's BAZAAR, "Lady Gaga Just Gave Us Another Epic Red Carpet Look in Alexander McQueen," 27 Sep. 2018 Video shot by the Indonesian Red Cross showed huge clouds of dust billowing from the mountain's slopes. Rosidin Sembahulun, Fox News, "Big quakes trigger landslides on Indonesia's Lombok island," 19 Aug. 2018 Sure enough, the wind picks up once the show starts, and the stuff billows in every direction, leaving everyone’s white summer clothes covered with what looks like toxic dust. New York Times, "Staying in the (Fashion) Moment," 27 June 2018 Smoke from the gunpowder billows in the hallway, moving into the rooms filled with terrified students and teachers., "New details: How the Parkland school shooting unfolded," 24 Apr. 2018 The fire drove residents from the College Park Townhomes in the 700 block of North 70th Terrace as smoke billowed through the neighborhood and groups gathered in the nearby streets to watch. Hunter Woodall And Max Londberg, kansascity, "Child, 4, killed in KCK apartment fire, fire marshal says. Three others injured," 7 July 2018 When crews arrived, flames were chewing through the roof as thick smoke billowed from the structure, Lopez said. Hannah Fry,, "Fire crews knock down 3-alarm blaze at Huntington Beach warehouse," 27 June 2018 Time lapse video shows thick plumes of smoke, billowing since June 1. Omar Villafranca, CBS News, "Colorado wildfires: Crews battling dry conditions, winds up to 30 mph," 14 June 2018 The ongoing fountains of lava can be seen billowing from a volcanic fissure as Hawaii's Kilauea volcano as the 20th day of ongoing eruptions sends lava into the Pacific Ocean and threatens a geothermal power plant. Travis Fedschun, Fox News, "Hawaii man describes 'powerful and hot' lava bomb snapping his leg in half," 23 May 2018

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


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


see billow entry 1

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Statistics for billow

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Time Traveler for billow

The first known use of billow was in 1552

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More Definitions for billow



English Language Learners Definition of billow

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a moving cloud or mass of smoke, steam, etc.

: 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

: to rise or roll in waves


bil·​low | \ˈbi-lō \

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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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).


by force of circumstances

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