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

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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, "Polarized Punks," 7 Mar. 2017 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb While West Virginia is coping with a steep drop in the share of shots administered, some states have struggled to whittle down their stockpiles since the beginning. NBC News, "States see rise in unused vaccines as demand flattens, shifting focus to hesitancy," 16 Apr. 2021 In order to whittle down another very full genre group, the judges are looking for country artists who not only have technical talent but feel authentic and can connect with the music. Maggie Fremont, EW.com, "American Idol recap: Hopefuls take on the 'Genre Challenge' as Hollywood Week begins," 22 Mar. 2021 The best way to permanently improve your credit scores is to methodically whittle down your debt by paying your loans, mortgages and credit card bills on time every month. Jennifer Yellin, CNN Underscored, "How to instantly improve your credit scores for free with Experian Boost," 22 Mar. 2021 Early in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon, after his team let a 15-point lead whittle down to one, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr didn’t give into the temptation to bring Stephen Curry back a couple of minutes early. Connor Letourneau, San Francisco Chronicle, "Warriors have a lot to feel good about after bounce-back win over Jazz," 14 Mar. 2021 On Sunday, April 18, from 8 to 10 p.m. on ABC, American Idol will whittle the field down to nine. Jennie Key, The Enquirer, "American Idol Top 12: Did NKU student Alyssa Wray make the cut?," 13 Apr. 2021 Republicans have opted to whittle down their field at a convention May 8 that will be held at sites across the state. Sarah Rankin, Star Tribune, "Northam endorses predecessor McAuliffe for Virginia governor," 8 Apr. 2021 After last year's men's and women's basketball tournaments were canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA this weekend will crown a new women's champion and whittle the men's field to two, in advance of Monday's championship game. Editors, USA TODAY, "Capitol attack aftermath, Easter Sunday, NCAA tournaments: 5 things to know this weekend," 3 Apr. 2021 Committee members, selected by the academy, review the music shortlisted by voters, and whittle those names down to a final ballot. Ben Sisario, New York Times, "Grammys Ready Pandemic Show, as the Weeknd Boycotts Future Awards​," 11 Mar. 2021

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

Time Traveler

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

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Cite this Entry

“Whittle.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whittle. Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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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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Nglish: Translation of whittle for Spanish Speakers

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