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verb (1)

preened; preening; preens

transitive verb

of a bird : to groom with the bill especially by rearranging the barbs and barbules of the feathers and by distributing oil from the uropygial gland
: to dress or smooth (oneself) up : primp
: to pride or congratulate (oneself) on an achievement

intransitive verb

: to make oneself sleek
: to behave or speak with obvious pride or self-satisfaction
preener noun


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dialectal, chiefly British : pin
dialectal, chiefly British : brooch


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verb (2)

preened; preening; preens

transitive verb

chiefly Scotland
: pin

Did you know?

Preen hatched in 14th-century Middle English, and early on it displayed various spelling forms, including prenen, prayne, prene, and preyne. The word traces to the Anglo-French puroindre, or proindre, linking pur-, meaning "thoroughly," with uindre, oindre, meaning "to anoint or rub." One of the first writers known to apply preen to the human act of primping was Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales: "He preens himself and prunes and combs his curls / To take the fancy of this queen of girls." Centuries later (sometime during the late 19th century), the prideful meaning of preen took flight, joining bird-related verbs plume, which was being used with the meaning "to pride or congratulate (oneself)," and peacock, a word still used today to mean "to show off."

Examples of preen in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
When Gaetz in January preened through McCarthy’s protracted, 15-ballot chase of the gavel, no one outside of his narrow universe saw it for anything more than a stunt. Philip Elliott, TIME, 4 Oct. 2023 As Republican candidates preen, the haunting truth is their arrogance condemns innocents to early deaths. David Robert Grimes, Scientific American, 1 Sep. 2023 Other college coaches preen and scream on the sidelines. Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker, 1 Oct. 2023 Andy the Andean Condor preens his feathers at Tracy Aviary. Scott D. Pierce, The Salt Lake Tribune, 18 Aug. 2023 Under gloomy Memorial Day skies, Wolfe led two separate kayaks on a three-mile journey down an urban wilderness of rapids, placid pools, preening herons, homeless encampments and trash snared in the highest limbs of cottonwood trees. Louis Sahagún, Los Angeles Times, 22 June 2023 But on that morning, the park’s open vistas allowed for herds of buffalo to gather unimpeded as kudu looked on, preening and showing off their spiral horns. Tayari Jones, Travel + Leisure, 26 July 2023 The play opens on the two of them preening and mugging the morning after their annual night of athletic bliss. Naveen Kumar, Variety, 24 July 2023 In Kate Myers’ funny, flinty debut, four women converge at a Greek archaeological dig led by a preening professor. Monitor Contributors, The Christian Science Monitor, 20 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'preen.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Verb (1)

Middle English prenen, alteration of proynen, prunen, from Anglo-French puroindre, proindre, from pur- thoroughly + uindre, oindre to anoint, rub, from Latin unguere — more at purchase entry 1, ointment


Middle English prene, from Old English prēon; akin to Middle High German pfrieme awl

First Known Use

Verb (1)

14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb (2)

1572, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of preen was before the 12th century


Dictionary Entries Near preen

Cite this Entry

“Preen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


: to groom with the bill
a bird preening its feathers
: to make one's appearance neat and tidy
preened in front of the mirror

More from Merriam-Webster on preen

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