win·​now | \ ˈwi-(ˌ)nō How to pronounce winnow (audio) \
winnowed; winnowing; winnows

Definition of winnow

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1a(1) : to remove (something, such as chaff) by a current of air
(2) : to get rid of (something undesirable or unwanted) : remove often used with out winnow out certain inaccuracies— Stanley Walker
b(1) : separate, sift an old hand at winnowing what is true and significant— Oscar Lewis
(2) : select
2a : to treat (something, such as grain) by exposure to a current of air so that waste matter is eliminated
b : to free of unwanted or inferior elements : pare
c : narrow, reduce winnowed the field to four contenders
3 : to blow on : fan the wind winnowing his thin white hairTime

intransitive verb

1 : to separate chaff from grain by fanning
2 : to separate desirable and undesirable elements



Definition of winnow (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a device for winnowing
2a : the action of winnowing
b : a motion resembling that of winnowing

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Other Words from winnow


winnower \ ˈwi-​nə-​wər How to pronounce winnower (audio) \ noun

Winnow Has Old English Roots


Beginning as windwian in Old English, winnow first referred to the removal of chaff from grain by a current of air. This use was soon extended to describe the removal of anything undesirable or unwanted (a current example of this sense would be "winnowing out outdated information"). People then began using the word for the selection of the most desirable elements (as in "winnowing out the true statements from the lies"). The association of winnow with the movement of air led to the meaning "to beat with or as if with wings," but that use is rare enough that it is found only in Merriam-Webster Unabridged. The word's last meaning ("to blow on or fan") blew in at the turn of the 19th century.

Examples of winnow in a Sentence


The least qualified applicants were winnowed out of the initial pool. Harvesters winnowed the chaff from the wheat.

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

As part of the sketch, Cordon helped Dion winnow her collection a bit by by passing out some of her lesser-used kicks to passersby with the help of her assistants. Sara Rodrigues, House Beautiful, "Celine Dion Reveals She Has a Warehouse Devoted to Shoes on Carpool Karaoke," 22 May 2019 In the end the itinerary was winnowed to around five restaurants a day, not including the Mandarin Oriental Hotel's vast breakfast buffet, which ranged from dragon fruit and dumplings to croissants. Mark Rozzo, Town & Country, "Hong Kong Foodie," 1 Nov. 2012 For her first pregnancy, the model and TV host went through IVF to generate 20 embryos, which were eventually winnowed down to three. Jancee Dunn, Vogue, "How California Became the World’s Fertility Treatment Destination," 13 Mar. 2019 In addition, four other finalists — winnowed from a field of 50 semifinalists — are set to receive $10,000 each in art-program funding. Adam Tschorn,, "Tennessee high school's customized kicks land $75,000 in arts funding from Vans," 22 May 2018 Then the public joined in and after more than 30,000 online votes, the list was winnowed to four finalists: Maryse Condé, Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami and Kim Thúy. Brenda Cronin, WSJ, "With No Nobel Prize in Literature This Year, Another Award Steps In," 1 Oct. 2018 Amazon’s committee of executives winnowed the field to 20 finalists in January. Matt Day, The Seattle Times, "Amazon selects New York, Northern Virginia, for HQ2 expansion, reports say," 13 Nov. 2018 Airbus in recent years has tried to winnow its management ranks. Robert Wall, WSJ, "Airbus Picks Future Chief Executive," 8 Oct. 2018 To better her odds, Ms. Nixon would need to winnow Mr. Cuomo’s strong support among black voters, who turned out in disproportionately large numbers in the 2014 primary, according to exit polls. New York Times, "Black Voters Have More Leverage in This Governor’s Race. They Mean to Use It.," 13 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

That amount of freedom kind of winnows and expands throughout the piece. Seth Colter Walls, New York Times, "A Long-Lost Score, Rebuilt With the Help of a Photo," 19 Jan. 2018 And by splintering the vote in Ohio and Florida, Mr. Cruz also risks handing Mr. Trump advantages in momentum and delegates that could be unstoppable, no matter how much the field winnows. Jonathan Martin, New York Times, "Democratic Debate: Analysis," 5 Mar. 2016

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


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a(1)


1580, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for winnow


Middle English winewen, from Old English windwian to fan, winnow; akin to Old High German wintōn to fan, Latin vannus winnowing fan, ventus wind — more at wind

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12 Jun 2019

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

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More Definitions for winnow



English Language Learners Definition of winnow

: to remove (people or things that are less important, desirable, etc.) from a larger group or list : to make (a list of possible choices) smaller by removing the less desirable choices
: to remove (the unwanted coverings of seeds) from grain by throwing the grain up in the air and letting the wind blow the unwanted parts away


win·​now | \ ˈwi-nō How to pronounce winnow (audio) \
winnowed; winnowing

Kids Definition of winnow

1 : to remove (as waste from grain) by a current of air
2 : to sort or separate from a larger group

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More from Merriam-Webster on winnow

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with winnow

Spanish Central: Translation of winnow

Nglish: Translation of winnow for Spanish Speakers

Comments on winnow

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


to move with exaggerated bouncy motions

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