whit·​tle | \ ˈhwi-tᵊl How to pronounce whittle (audio) , ˈwi-\

Definition of whittle

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a large knife


whittled; whittling\ ˈhwit-​liŋ How to pronounce whittling (audio) , ˈwit-​ ; ˈhwi-​tᵊl-​iŋ , ˈwi-​ \

Definition of whittle (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : to pare or cut off chips from the surface of (wood) with a knife
b : to shape or form by so paring or cutting
2 : to reduce, remove, or destroy gradually as if by cutting off bits with a knife : pare whittle down expenses

intransitive verb

1 : to cut or shape something (such as wood) by or as if by paring it with a knife
2 : to wear oneself or another out with fretting

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Other Words from whittle


whittler \ ˈhwit-​lər How to pronounce whittler (audio) , ˈwit-​ ; ˈhwi-​tᵊl-​ər , ˈwi-​ \ noun

Examples of whittle in a Sentence


He was sitting on the porch, whittling a stick. She whittled a walking stick from a maple tree branch.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Whittle fed Hartshorn and then scored back-to-back free-position goals, including her 200th career goal. Katherine Dunn, baltimoresun.com, "Maryland women hold off Johns Hopkins, 19-16, to advance to Big Ten final," 5 May 2017 Whittle down the big idea, ratchet it up a notch, and repeat to a beat—fight the power, and imagine all the people living life in peace, because God is a d.j. Matthew Trammell, The New Yorker, "Polarized Punks," 7 Mar. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

But just because the field has been whittled down to four doesn’t mean the backstrech of the season should be any less exciting. Jim Ayello, Indianapolis Star, "Driver-favorite Road America returns to kick off second half of IndyCar season," 20 June 2019 That number has been whittled down by two rounds of secret voting by Conservative lawmakers. Christina Boyle, latimes.com, "And then there were four: a primer on the race in Britain to succeed Theresa May," 19 June 2019 And the members only get a say once the list of candidates has been whittled down to two by the 313 Conservative lawmakers. Luke Mcgee, CNN, "Theresa May's days are ending but the Brexit fantasy lives on," 7 June 2019 Jon Richardson, Cincinnati Two of the area's top college football prospects at Winton Woods High School have whittled down their list of schools. Scott Springer, Cincinnati.com, "Winton Woods teammates Williams, Blankumsee narrow their college football choices," 3 Nov. 2018 The Aggies and Friars were tied at 50 with nine minutes remaining before A&M, keyed by flashy point guard TJ Starks, built an insurmountable lead that was whittled down by the Friars late. Brent Zwerneman, Houston Chronicle, "Texas A&M moves past Providence in NCAA Tournament," 16 Mar. 2018 Investigators have been working to whittle down the number of patrol cars that matched her description in order to identify a possible suspect. Jessica Anderson, baltimoresun.com, "All but 12 Baltimore Police cars have returned to service amid rape investigation," 5 June 2019 Also, Reuters reports that China also has been whittling down the number of countries that recognize Taiwan, now just 18, with Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic switching relations to Beijing this year. Christopher Carbone, Fox News, "Taiwan's president says no one can 'obliterate' country's existence ahead of US visit," 12 Aug. 2018 After initial engineering estimates indicated planned road repairs in Oak Forest would cost substantially more than what was budgeted for the work, city officials were prepared to whittle down the list of roads that would be repaired this summer. Gregory Tejeda, Daily Southtown, "Eight Oak Forest roads to be resurfaced this season," 9 May 2018

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


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1552, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for whittle


Middle English whittel, alteration of thwitel, from thwiten to whittle, from Old English thwītan; akin to Old Norse thveita to hew

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Time Traveler for whittle

The first known use of whittle was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for whittle



English Language Learners Definition of whittle

: to cut or shape (a piece of wood) by cutting small pieces from it : to make or shape (something) from a piece of wood by cutting small pieces from it


whit·​tle | \ ˈhwi-tᵊl How to pronounce whittle (audio) , ˈwi-\
whittled; whittling

Kids Definition of whittle

1 : to cut or shave off chips from wood : shape by cutting or shaving off chips from wood
2 : to reduce little by little They are trying to whittle down their spending.

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More from Merriam-Webster on whittle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with whittle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for whittle

Spanish Central: Translation of whittle

Nglish: Translation of whittle for Spanish Speakers

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showing courage and determination

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