verb (used with object)

verb (used without object)

to free grain from chaff by wind or driven air.
to fly with flapping wings; flutter.


a device or contrivance used for winnowing.
an act of winnowing.

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 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for winnowing

stir, fan, scatter, puff

Examples from the Web for winnowing

Contemporary Examples of winnowing

Historical Examples of winnowing

  • Do not our household servants talk of sifting, straining, winnowing?



  • Well, after that, Ischomachus, we will proceed to cleanse the corn by winnowing.

  • There was Hilary in the barn with his men, as busy as they could well be, winnowing oats.

  • The older women are winnowing grain and grinding at the metate.

    The Arrow-Maker

    Mary Austin

  • After drying, they are brought to the hulling and winnowing machines.

    All About Coffee

    William H. Ukers

British Dictionary definitions for winnowing



to separate (grain) from (chaff) by means of a wind or current of air
(tr) to examine in order to select the desirable elements
(tr) archaic to beat (the air) with wings
(tr) rare to blow upon; fan


  1. a device for winnowing
  2. the act or process of winnowing
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 winnowing



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."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper