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 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 The fire also released billows of toxic lead dust into the atmosphere, not only posing serious health concerns, but also causing delays to the repairs process. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian Magazine, "Is Notre-Dame Too Fragile to Be Saved?," 24 Dec. 2019 Chris Morocco’s new recipe is, of course, flawless: velvety, pucker-inducing lemon filling, gooey billows of sweet meringue, and a golden-brown blind-baked pie crust. Sarah Jampel, Bon Appétit, "Lemon Meringue Pie Is the Only Thing on the Thanksgiving Table I Care About," 5 Nov. 2019 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb No matter how full and fluffy your hair may be, the Dinner Scrunchie will billow beyond its perimeters and instantly become the focus of your look. Marci Robin, Allure, "Kitsch Just Launched a Humongous Scrunchie, and It's Actually Really Cute," 24 Nov. 2019 Orange flames flickered and black smoke billowed from the building around 9:30 a.m. local time (12:30 p.m. ET) as firefighters walked on a nearby balcony, video taken by CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS showed. Cheri Mossburg, CNN, "People are hurt in a high-rise fire in Los Angeles, officials say. At least 1 person may have jumped," 29 Jan. 2020 In downtown Beirut, just a few blocks away from Carlos Ghosn’s multi-million dollar mansion, smoke billows out of flimsy tents set up by protestors occupying the center of the Lebanese capital. Habib Battah, Fortune, "Prodigal Son or Unwelcome Fugitive? Carlos Ghosn’s Flashy Return to Lebanon Clashes with a Country in Crisis," 9 Jan. 2020 As day broke, the occupiers and the police were still locked in the standoff at Hong Kong Polytechnic University that began Saturday night, and smoke billowed from the grounds., "Hong Kong police try to oust protesters from campus retreats," 17 Nov. 2019 Imagery from the commercial company Planet showed smoke billowing from the pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "Rocket Report: Iranian launch failure, SpaceX rideshare business booming," 30 Aug. 2019 Unconfirmed images and video on social media appeared to show chaos at the prison, with black smoke billowing out from inside the prison walls. Anchorage Daily News, "Dozens of inmates killed in Brazil prison riot, with at least 16 decapitated," 29 July 2019 In striking photos captured by satellites and astronauts on the International Space Station, smoke is seen billowing from the volcano on Raikoke, located northeast of Japan, as the uninhabited island saw its first volcanic eruption since 1924. Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY, "Volcano was dormant for almost 100 years. It just erupted in 'spectacular' fashion," 27 June 2019 Two black bodies are dragged behind a speeding car, clouds of dirt billowing in their wake. Victor Luckerson, The New Yorker, "The Great Achievement of “Watchmen” Is in Showing How Black Americans Shape History," 13 Dec. 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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Time Traveler for billow

Time Traveler

The first known use of billow was in 1552

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Statistics for billow

Last Updated

20 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Billow.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Feb. 2020.

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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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