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

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 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 Kahn said HealthRight 360 has been able to whittle down its vacancies as staff members have figured out how to work with the new requirements over the past few months. Trisha Thadani, SFChronicle.com, "Where are the empty treatment beds in SF? The health department wants to find out," 23 Sep. 2019 The acceleration in consumer spending also helped businesses to whittle down an inventory overhang, leading to a smaller inventory build. NBC News, "Economic growth slows less than expected in second quarter," 26 July 2019 Rule changes in 1998 instituted a two-phase process: the lawmakers whittle down the contenders and the membership decides between two finalists. Washington Post, "Meet the 0.25 percent of Brits who will pick the next prime minister," 17 July 2019 There will be no political primary to whittle down the field. Frederick Melo, Twin Cities, "28 candidates file for 7 seats on the St. Paul City Council, and here they are," 25 Aug. 2019 The board’s screening committee then interviewed 10 candidates, including five women and three people of color, before further whittling down the list. Jon Chesto, BostonGlobe.com, "Massport CEO search is narrowed down to two finalists," 20 June 2019 Other proposals include giant magnets, harpoons, and nets to safely whittle down the growing debris cloud. Maya Wei-haas, National Geographic, "Space junk is a huge problem—and it’s only getting bigger," 25 Apr. 2019 The company is ready to be profitable, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently wrote in an email to staff, and needs to whittle down its capital expenditures. Johana Bhuiyan, Recode, "Elon Musk expects Tesla to be profitable in the second half of 2018, even as it misses Model 3 production goals," 2 May 2018 The list was whittled down using a scoring system during a process that included a review of applications and a round of interviews. San Diego Union-Tribune, "These marijuana dispensaries and delivery businesses are still competing for licenses in Chula Vista," 17 Sep. 2019

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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Statistics for whittle

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for whittle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with whittle

Spanish Central: Translation of whittle

Nglish: Translation of whittle for Spanish Speakers

Comments on whittle

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


not being in agreement or harmony

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