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 The prominent facial feature, about eight inches long, is used to bring her tasty treats, carry leaves and twigs for building a nest, and even preening her feathers. Martin Weil, Washington Post, "Social life working out for bird with artificial beak, zoo says," 29 July 2019 Instagram has escalated them into thirst traps of preening bodies and unicorn rafts as massive as a cruise liner. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, "Pool parties are soul-crushing spectacles of half-naked strangers posing next to an artificial swamp," 5 Aug. 2019 National conservatives preen as defenders of the dignity of the rural and small-town — mostly white and non-college educated — working class. George Will, Twin Cities, "George Will: ‘National conservatism’ is ‘Elizabeth Warren conservatism’," 11 Aug. 2019 National conservatives preen as defenders of the dignity of the rural and small-town — mostly white and non-college educated — working class. George F. Will, The Denver Post, "Will: “National conservatism” is “Elizabeth Warren conservatism”," 11 Aug. 2019 Sebastian Velasquez, the youth category winner, zoomed in on a single horned puffin preening its feathers at the Alaska Sea Life Center. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "Audubon Photography Award Winners Show the Breathtaking Beauty of Wild Birds," 16 July 2019 No one comes to preen and promote, and failing to listen is a cardinal sin. Nicole Blackwood,, "‘Grandma’s House’ open mic builds chosen family from poetry performance," 25 June 2019 Several minutes after their first interaction, Queenie preened away from the two boys, who found a shallow place to clean themselves off. Ryan Gillespie,, "Will Queenie find love? Two new black-necked swans released into Lake Eola, where the solitary female awaited," 25 June 2019 Like a preening pageant contestant, the restaurant is beautiful and knows it. Michael Mayo,, "Review: The Terrace Grill at the Dalmar in Fort Lauderdale is a good-looking disappointment," 20 June 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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Statistics for preen

Last Updated

16 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for preen

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

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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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with preen

Spanish Central: Translation of preen

Nglish: Translation of preen for Spanish Speakers

Comments on preen

What made you want to look up preen? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to spread as a report or rumor

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