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

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 Bags of classic Kingsford charcoal line the dining room, and clouds of that signature blue smoke billow from the exhaust vent with factory precision. Chuck Blount,, "52 Weeks of Burgers: Frontier Burger," 12 July 2019 Just tether in a couple spots and let the rest billow. Paula Pell, Glamour, "People Used to Tell Me 'You Could Be a Knockout.' My Mistake Was Listening to Them.," 6 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Schatz doesn’t avoid some of the terrible images of the day: the second plane striking the World Trade Center and resultant fireball, the collapse of each tower and the giant clouds of debris that billowed through the canyons of city streets., "HBO produces documentary to help kids understand 9/11 - The Boston Globe," 12 Sep. 2019 Elgort re-enacted a snippet of his Officer Krupke scene for the audience, who billowed with applause. Heran Mamo, Billboard, "Ansel Elgort Is Having Nightmares That He Isn't in Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' (Don't Worry, He Is)," 11 Sep. 2019 The largest city in Brazil was plunged into darkness in the middle of the day on Monday after billowing smoke from ongoing wildfires in the Amazon region combined with a weather pattern, creating an ominous, dark blanket over the metropolis. Fox News, "Smoke from Amazon wildfires plunges Sao Paulo into darkness in middle of day," 22 Aug. 2019 As cyclists whiz past, Mireya glides on roller skates in a Cinderella-pink Oscar de la Renta gown with a tulle train billowing behind her like a majestic sail. Dennis Leupold; Fashion Editor: Miguel Enamorado, Harper's BAZAAR, "Crazy Rich Angelenos," 15 Aug. 2019 Portions of Interstate 75 were closed periodically as shifting winds caused billowing smoke to obscure visibility. Meghan Overdeep, Southern Living, "WATCH: Massive Wildfire Swallows up Portion of Florida Everglades," 26 June 2019 Between a hit-and-run accident, billowing smoke and reports of an entire load of passengers removed from a bus, the Red Line's first day was not without incident. London Gibson, Indianapolis Star, "Hit-and-run, scraping noises and a surprise unloading: Your Red Line questions answered after Day One," 1 Sep. 2019 Thick black smoke from the vessel billowed into the air over the Mission Bay area before firefighters knocked down most of the flames. San Diego Union-Tribune, "2 injured in Mission Bay boat fire near Dana Landing," 8 Aug. 2019 Chopra’s sequined red minidress by 16Arlington also featured a regal high neckline, billowing sleeves, and a draping waist sash. Chelsey Sanchez, Harper's BAZAAR, "Priyanka Wears a Bold Red Dress to Celebrate Her 37th Birthday," 19 July 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

18 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

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

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


miscellaneous remnants or debris

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