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

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

Inside billows of wildfire smoke is not usually a place that people would choose to be. Mary Beth Griggs, The Verge, "Scientists fly through plumes of wildfire smoke to unravel its mysteries," 21 Nov. 2018 An early morning fire at a Tacoma scrap-metal that sent billows of noxious smoke into the air was brought under control and air quality was improving, according to local and state authorities. Agueda Pacheco-flores, The Seattle Times, "Noxious Tacoma scrap-metal fire under control; nearby air quality has improved," 17 Sep. 2018 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

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Gaga started her ascent of the Metropolitan Museum of Art steps wearing a billowing, hot pink gown while flanked by men carrying umbrellas. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "Everyone Is Freaking Out Over Lady Gaga's Met Gala Entrance, As They Should," 6 May 2019 Smoke billowed, drivers yelled, fires flared and mud flew. Mykal Mceldowney, Indianapolis Star, "'It's a big rush': The risks and rewards of demolition derby," 25 June 2018 By the time crews arrived, smoke was billowing from the one-story wood frame home. Samantha Ketterer, Houston Chronicle, "2 fires blocks apart in south Houston spark arson investigation, send 1 firefighter to hospital," 21 June 2018 The volcano sent ash billowing 6km into the air, closing the capital’s airport. The Economist, "The deadly eruption of a Guatemalan volcano," 7 June 2018 Thick clouds of smoke and ash billowed into the sky, and homes in nearby villages were engulfed by lava flows. Ciara Nugent, Time, "At Least 62 People Have Died in Guatemala's Fuego Volcano Eruption. Here's What to Know," 4 June 2018 Ash clouds billowed nearly 33,000 feet into the air, raining out sharp shards of rock. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Five Things to Know About Guatemala’s Deadly Volcanic Eruption," 4 June 2018 The 36-year-old actress teamed the trench, with billowing sleeves, layered lapels and a huge collar, with relaxed blue jeans (likely a bargain, knowing her taste in denim), a simple satin shirt, and pointed white boots. Lucy Wood, Marie Claire, "Priyanka Chopra and Sophia Bush Are Both Loving This Bold and Bright Yellow Trench," 28 Jan. 2019 The dress featured billowing shoulders sleeves that were accented with various colors. Lauren Rearick, Teen Vogue, "Kiernan Shipka Wore Berry Red Lipstick," 8 Oct. 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

Noun and Verb

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

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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.
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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with billow

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for billow

Spanish Central: Translation of billow

Nglish: Translation of billow for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of billow for Arabic Speakers

Comments on billow

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