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 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 Images taken at one of the incidents show flames blanketing the ship’s hull while clouds of black smoke billow into the clear sky. John Walcott, Time, "Oil Tanker Attacks Put Trump's Iran Red Line to the Test," 14 June 2019 The thick, black billows of smoke that could be seen from several miles were caused by a scrap metal fire in an industrial recycling yard in Apopka, according to Orange County Fire Rescue. Cristóbal Reyes,, "Apopka scrap-metal fire sends plumes of smoke visible for miles," 16 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Director Lonny Price tries to infuse the farcical, bloody proceedings with antic comic energy, but his staging, including one scene in which the performers wave long, billowing white sheets to indicate paradise, feels forced more often than not. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Scotland, PA': Theater Review," 24 Oct. 2019 Clouds of dust billowed up as workers inside ran from the building that day. Rebecca Santana, San Diego Union-Tribune, "After delay, New Orleans to demolish cranes at hotel site," 19 Oct. 2019 Video and photos capture bystanders’ shock as a cloud of gray dust billows out, wreckage falling onto the road and sending people dashing away., "At least two people are dead and 18 were taken to a hospital after a New Orleans hotel under construction collapsed Saturday, city officials said.," 14 Oct. 2019 Geometric lines billowed from her upper arms to the floor, creating a sort of optical illusion that would make even abstract artist Bridget Riley proud. Chelsey Sanchez, Harper's BAZAAR, "Gwendoline Christie Stuns in a Psychedelic Iris van Herpen Dress," 3 Oct. 2019 Plumes of dark smoke billowed out of the Haramain train station in the coastal city of Jeddah as crews tried extinguishing the blaze. Fox News, "Fire at Saudi high-speed rail station injures at least 5," 1 Oct. 2019 Otherwise our breath would billow out and become a solid thing in the air. Arna Bontemps Hemenway, The Atlantic, "Wolves of Karelia," 19 July 2019 In the final moments, smoke billowed from the rocket as Cronkite counted down from 12. Victoria Albert, CBS News, "Apollo 11 launch: Watch the most memorable moments from CBS News' coverage," 16 July 2019 When firefighters arrived several minutes later, the house was ablaze, with heavy smoke billowing from it. Kelly Wei, Dallas News, "Man in serious condition after Frisco house fire," 24 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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Statistics for billow

Last Updated

13 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for billow

The first known use of billow was in 1552

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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

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