whit·​tle | \ ˈ(h)wi-tᵊl How to pronounce whittle (audio) \

Definition of whittle

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a large knife


whittled; whittling\ ˈ(h)wit-​liŋ , ˈ(h)wi-​tᵊl-​iŋ How to pronounce whittle (audio) \

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

Other Words from whittle


whittler \ ˈ(h)wit-​lər , ˈ(h)wi-​tᵊl-​ər How to pronounce whittle (audio) \ noun

Examples of whittle in a Sentence

Verb 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 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, 7 Mar. 2017 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy, is particularly reliant on Russia’s gas to power its homes and heavy industry, but has managed to whittle Moscow’s share of its imports down to 35% from 55% before the start of the war in Ukraine. Anna Cooban, CNN, 1 June 2022 With more than 30 candidates vying to become Boston’s next police commissioner, the task ahead of the mayor’s search committee is now to whittle the list down to three. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 22 May 2022 For Gibson, Scotti managed to whittle a nine-count charge down to three, but the evidence was overwhelming, and she was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. Susan Orlean, The New Yorker, 29 Apr. 2022 The Bulls had renewed energy coming out of the locker room, with Vucevic and Ayo Dosunmu hitting 3-pointers to whittle the deficit to 66-55. Ben Steele, USA TODAY, 28 Apr. 2022 The field of 64 will whittle down to 32 by the time Saturday’s slate of games is finalized. Xl Media, cleveland, 16 Mar. 2022 Using contractor pathologists in other states, the office began working to whittle down the backlog. Leah Willingham, ajc, 30 Apr. 2022 What’s more exciting is that now, researchers have observed crows using their beaks to whittle a hook at the ends of these twigs for even easier access to food in tight spaces. Daisy Hernandez, Popular Mechanics, 14 Apr. 2022 With three in four taxpayers typically receiving refund checks every year, the money represents an important windfall that households rely on to pay bills, save or whittle down debt. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, 1 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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

Buying Guide

Our Reviews team has selected the best pocket knives.

Learn More About whittle

Time Traveler for whittle

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near whittle



whittle away

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for whittle

Cite this Entry

“Whittle.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whittle. Accessed 2 Jul. 2022.

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

More Definitions for whittle


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.

More from Merriam-Webster on whittle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for whittle

Nglish: Translation of whittle for Spanish Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Which Word Does Not Belong?

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

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!