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verb (used with object)
  1. to free (grain) from the lighter particles of chaff, dirt, etc., especially by throwing it into the air and allowing the wind or a forced current of air to blow away impurities.
  2. to drive or blow (chaff, dirt, etc.) away by fanning.
  3. to blow upon; fan.
  4. to subject to some process of separating or distinguishing; analyze critically; sift: to winnow a mass of statements.
  5. to separate or distinguish (valuable from worthless parts) (sometimes followed by out): to winnow falsehood from truth.
  6. to pursue (a course) with flapping wings in flying.
  7. to fan or stir (the air) as with the wings in flying.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to free grain from chaff by wind or driven air.
  2. to fly with flapping wings; flutter.
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  1. a device or contrivance used for winnowing.
  2. an act of winnowing.
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Origin of winnow

before 900; Middle English win(d)wen (v.), Old English windwian, derivative of wind wind1
Related formswin·now·er, nounun·win·nowed, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for winnow

stir, fan, scatter, puff

Examples from the Web for winnow

Historical Examples of winnow

  • These had lived there so long as to be able to winnow the chaff and throw the refuse off.

    Four Years in Rebel Capitals

    T. C. DeLeon

  • I winnow him; and if nothing but chaff results, whose fault is that?

  • This very night he is going to winnow barley on the threshing-floor.

    The Children's Bible

    Henry A. Sherman

  • Water is then poured over her head three times through the winnow.

  • He has sown, but he has also to reap; and if reaping is done, he has to thresh and to winnow.

    Talks To Farmers

    Charles Haddon Spurgeon

British Dictionary definitions for winnow


  1. to separate (grain) from (chaff) by means of a wind or current of air
  2. (tr) to examine in order to select the desirable elements
  3. (tr) archaic to beat (the air) with wings
  4. (tr) rare to blow upon; fan
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    1. a device for winnowing
    2. the act or process of winnowing
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Derived Formswinnower, noun

Word Origin for winnow

Old English windwian; related to Old High German wintōn, Gothic diswinthjan, Latin ventilāre. See wind 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for winnow


Old English windwian, from wind "air in motion, paring down," see wind (n.1). Cognate with Old Norse vinza, Old High German winton "to fan, winnow," Gothic diswinþjan "to throw (grain) apart," Latin vannus "winnowing fan."

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper