From Middle English winewen, windewen, windwen, from Old English windwian (to winnow, fan, ventilate), from Proto-Germanic *windwōną, *winþijaną (to throw about, winnow), from Proto-Indo-European *wē- (to winnow, thresh). Cognate with Middle High German winden (to winnow), Icelandic vinsa (to pick out, weed), Latin vannus (a winnowing basket). See fan, van.


  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈwɪnoʊ/
  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈwɪnəʊ/
  • Rhymes: -ɪnəʊ
  • (file)


winnow (third-person singular simple present winnows, present participle winnowing, simple past and past participle winnowed)

  1. (transitive, agriculture) To subject (granular material, especially food grain) to a current of air separating heavier and lighter components, as grain from chaff.
    • 1998, Sid Perkins, “Thin Skin”, in Science News, volume 165, number 1, page 11:
      ...wind began to winnow the river delta's dried sediments.
  2. (transitive, figuratively) To separate, sift, analyse, or test by separating items having different values.
    They winnowed the field to twelve.
    They winnowed the winners from the losers.
    They winnowed the losers from the winners.
  3. (transitive, literary) To blow upon or toss about by blowing; to set in motion as with a fan or wings.
    • 1834, L[etitia] E[lizabeth] L[andon], Francesca Carrara. [], volume II, London: Richard Bentley, [], (successor to Henry Colburn), →OCLC, page 206:
      The light snow lay on the narrow and winding path before them, pure as if just fresh winnowed by the wind.
    • 1872 Elliott Coues, Key to North American Birds
      Gulls average much larger than terns, with stouter build; the feet are larger and more ambulatorial, the wings are shorter and not so thin; the birds winnow the air in a steady course unlike the buoyant dashing flight of their relatives.
  4. (intransitive, literary, dated) To move about with a flapping motion, as of wings; to flutter.

Usage notesEdit

  • Used with adverb or preposition "down"; see also winnow down.
  • Used with adverbs or prepositions "through", "away", and "out".


Derived termsEdit



winnow (plural winnows)

  1. That which winnows or which is used in winnowing; a contrivance for fanning or winnowing grain.
  2. The act of winnowing