verb (1)
\ ˈprēn How to pronounce preen (audio) \
preened; preening; preens

Definition of preen

 (Entry 1 of 3)

transitive verb

1 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
2 : to dress or smooth (oneself) up : primp
3 : to pride or congratulate (oneself) on an achievement

intransitive verb

1 : to make oneself sleek
2 : to behave or speak with obvious pride or self-satisfaction



Definition of preen (Entry 2 of 3)

1 dialectal, chiefly British : pin
2 dialectal, chiefly British : brooch


verb (2)
preened; preening; preens

Definition of preen (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

chiefly Scotland
: pin

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Other Words from preen

Verb (1)

preener noun

Examples of preen in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb After thoroughly covering themselves in dust, turkeys preen their feathers with their beaks, which helps clean the features and realign the interlocking feather barbules. Corryn Wetzel, Smithsonian Magazine, "View Amazing Photos and Video of a Turkey Dust Bathing," 25 Nov. 2020 While patiently waiting for a food clue, the birds will preen. Jim Williams, Star Tribune, "Why birds spend so much time preening," 25 Aug. 2020 The male and female spend all year together, constantly preening each other to maintain the pair bond. National Geographic, "Horned screamer," 28 May 2020 Webcams stationed in the aquarium’s June Keyes Penguin Habitat allow online visitors to watch the animals waddle and preen on a rocky beach and dart around underwater. Lindsay Lambert Day, Condé Nast Traveler, "These Wildlife Webcams Will Cure Your Cabin Fever," 18 Mar. 2020 Along comes Christian Dawkins to wreak a peculiarly 21st century revenge on those preening coaches and federal prosecutors. Michael Powell, New York Times, "A ‘Drop the Mic’ Moment for a Man Who Paid College Basketball Recruits," 17 Mar. 2020 David's hunger for fame is evident in a snippy exchange with T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan (James Cade), portrayed as a preening bore in one of the movie's assortment of bad wigs. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Stardust': Film Review | Tribeca 2020," 16 Apr. 2020 Each one will be groomed and pampered, allowed a few snacks and even a nap or two, and then poked and prodded and allowed to preen. New York Times, "Westminster Dog Show Photos: Ready for Prime Time," 12 Feb. 2020 To situate the album in the wake of King’s death is to hear its obsession with betrayal as not only personal but also social—as suggestive of the ways that black people have been consistently betrayed by the state and yet still rise, refuse, preen. Emily Lordi, The New Yorker, "How Isaac Hayes Changed Soul Music," 1 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'preen.' 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 preen

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

History and Etymology for preen

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

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Time Traveler for preen

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

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Cite this Entry

“Preen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for preen


\ ˈprēn How to pronounce preen (audio) \
preened; preening

Kids Definition of preen

1 : to smooth and clean with the bill The sparrow preened its feathers.
2 : to make a person's own appearance neat and tidy He preened himself in front of the mirror.

More from Merriam-Webster on preen

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for preen

Nglish: Translation of preen for Spanish Speakers

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