verb win·now \ˈwi-(ˌ)nō\

Definition of winnow

  1. transitive verb
  2. 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 Walkerb (1) :  separate, sift an old hand at winnowing what is true and significant — Oscar Lewis (2) :  select

  3. 2a :  to treat (something, such as grain) by exposure to a current of air so that waste matter is eliminatedb :  to free of unwanted or inferior elements :  parec :  narrow, reduce winnowed the field to four contenders

  4. 3 :  to blow on :  fan the wind winnowing his thin white hair — Time

  5. intransitive verb
  6. 1 :  to separate chaff from grain by fanning

  7. 2 :  to separate desirable and undesirable elements


play \ˈwi-nə-wər\ noun

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Examples of winnow in a Sentence

  1. The least qualified applicants were winnowed out of the initial pool.

  2. Harvesters winnowed the chaff from the wheat.

Recent Examples of winnow from the Web

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.

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to describe the removal of anything undesirable or unwanted (a current example of this sense would be "winnowing out outdated information").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.

Origin and Etymology of 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



noun win·now

Definition of winnow

  1. 1 :  a device for winnowing

  2. 2a :  the action of winnowingb :  a motion resembling that of winnowing

First Known Use of winnow


Other Agriculture/Gardening Terms

WINNOW Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of winnow for English Language Learners

  • : 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

WINNOW Defined for Kids


verb win·now \ˈwi-nō\

Definition of winnow for Students




  1. 1 :  to remove (as waste from grain) by a current of air

  2. 2 :  to sort or separate from a larger group

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an extremely thin woman

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