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 billow (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 Don’t go quiet while emotions like loneliness and anxiety billow inside you. Malia Wollan, New York Times, "How to Train for Team Sports Alone," 29 Dec. 2020 Speaking of curls, Adut Akech rocked cornrows that cascaded into a billow of her spirals. Akili King, Vogue, "The Best Beauty Instagrams of the Week: Adut Akech, Ashley Graham, and More," 8 Nov. 2020 Thrown canisters and grenades of tear gas produce clouds of powder with an appearance akin to smoke that billow in the air like a mist. Kelsey D. Atherton, Scientific American, "What “Less Lethal” Weapons Actually Do," 23 June 2020 When the stones are red-hot, water is thrown onto them, raising billows of light steam. Rachel Polonsky, The New York Review of Books, "Naked Souls," 27 May 2020 And so the wretched wander the business district, pitching camp on the sidewalks, warming their suppers and sandwiches on the sewer caps that billow with steam. Charlie Leduff, Los Angeles Times, "‘It’s like we’re expendable’: Detroit’s first responders fall to COVID-19 pandemic," 1 Apr. 2020 Couscous billows with steam, saturated with vegetables and topped with tender meats. Dominic Armato, azcentral, "The 10 best restaurants in north Phoenix," 24 Feb. 2020 When the dining room’s two sets of bifolding doors are open, the footprint seems to expand as salty breeze billows in. Kelly Dawson, Sunset Magazine, "Ocean Views Abound in This Open and Airy Coastal Modern Home," 12 Feb. 2020 The red curtains from a stage in the gym billow as wood, bricks, and pieces of the building rush toward the running children. Zachary Halaschak, Washington Examiner, "'I was praying': Video shows students running after wind blows roof off elementary school gym," 15 Jan. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The side of Venus' ionosphere that faces away from the sun can billow outward like the tail of a comet, while the side facing the star remains tightly compacted, researchers said. Miriam Kramer, Scientific American, "Solar Wind Transforms Venus into Shape of Comet," 31 Jan. 2013 Forty firefighters responded to the blaze that caved the theater’s roof in and caused heavy smoke to billow out from its interior. Vanessa Arredondo,, "Second fire this year damages historic Lorenzo Theatre in San Lorenzo," 23 Oct. 2020 At times, gray clouds seemed also to swell and billow, assuming the rounded shapes of their fleecy white brethren that sail through brighter, bluer skies. Washington Post, "Gray day remains T-shirt weather in Washington," 11 Oct. 2020 The Redding Record Searchlight reported Smith made the statement while watching some smoke from a new blaze, the deadly Zogg Fire, billow nearby. Megan Diskin, USA TODAY, "In CA: Newsom gets high approval rating in new poll," 30 Sep. 2020 As the box was lowered into the lake by ropes, water would seep into the cavity, mix with the blood, and billow into the lake, turning the surrounding water red. National Geographic, "Centuries-old Inca offering discovered in sacred lake," 4 Aug. 2020 After a summer of fire-hot temperatures and tumultuous storms drenching Central Florida afternoons, residents may finally be getting some reprieve as cool temperatures billow into town later this week. Joe Mario Pedersen,, "Weather: cool breezes billowing into Orlando this week," 28 Sep. 2020 Horn taught himself the art of slow and low on his grandfather’s old pit, so beat up that smoke would billow out its sides, a wad of foil jammed into a hole where the thermometer used to be. Sunset Magazine, "He’s the Barbecue King of California. And He Won’t Let Any Pandemic Stall His Long-Smoked Restaurant Dreams.," 11 Sep. 2020 This is what gives them such a captivating tendency to drift and billow in the breeze. National Geographic, "They may look goofy, but ostriches are nobody’s fool," 4 Aug. 2020

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

Cite this Entry

“Billow.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Apr. 2021.

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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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Comments on billow

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