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

Other Words from preen

Verb (1)

preener noun

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 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. Centuries later (sometime during the late 19th century), the prideful meaning of preen hatched, joining another bird-related word, plume, which was being used with the meaning "to pride or congratulate (oneself)" from the first half of the 17th century.

Examples of preen in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Keas traditionally use their beaks to preen themselves. David Kindy, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 Sep. 2021 The goose will preen her ponytail while vocalizing with a playlist of notes and volumes. Kevin Spear,, 24 Nov. 2021 Albatrosses in matrimonial sync will tenderly preen each other and cuddle in their nest. Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic, 23 Nov. 2021 Birds also instinctually preen themselves to remove anything on their feathers, which exposes them to ingesting toxic amounts of oil, Anderson says. Brandon Griggs, CNN, 5 Oct. 2021 Now with the flood of billions of dollars in CARES Act and American Rescue Plan funding, the feds are providing nothing new but a PR opportunity for mayors and others to preen about housing and homelessness. Paul Webster, National Review, 28 Sep. 2021 Using his tongue, the parrot holds the small stone in place to preen his plumage. David Kindy, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 Sep. 2021 While the pandemic drove the world indoors for safety, an evolutionary desire to preen ourselves proved tough to stifle. New York Times, 14 July 2021 Miraculously, the story grants an exemption to the virtuous white elites who have taken on black people as their moral wards—whites who preen and shake their fists and lament the iniquity, inequity and shame of it all. Lance Morrow, WSJ, 16 May 2021 See More

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.

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

Learn More About preen

Time Traveler for preen

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast About preen

Dictionary Entries Near preen




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for preen

Cite this Entry

“Preen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Great Words for Scrabble

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!