from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To separate the chaff from (grain) by means of a current of air.
  • intransitive verb To blow (chaff) off or away.
  • intransitive verb To examine closely in order to separate the good from the bad; sift.
  • intransitive verb To separate or get rid of (an undesirable part); eliminate.
  • intransitive verb To sort or select (a desirable part); extract.
  • intransitive verb To blow on; fan.
  • intransitive verb To separate grain from chaff.
  • intransitive verb To separate the good from the bad.
  • noun A device for winnowing grain.
  • noun An act of winnowing.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun That which winnows or which is used in winnowing; a contrivance for fanning or winnowing grain.
  • To fan; set in motion by means of wind; specifically, to expose (grain) to a current of air in order to separate and drive off chaff, refuse particles, etc.
  • To blow upon; toss about by blowing.
  • To separate, expel, or disperse by or as by fanning or blowing; sift or weed out; separate or distinguish, as one thing from another.
  • To set in motion or vibration; beat as with a fan or wings.
  • To wave to and fro; flutter; flap.
  • To pursue or accomplish with a waving or flapping motion, as of wings.
  • Figuratively, to subject to a process analogous to the winnowing of grain; separate into parts according to kind; sift; analyze or scrutinize carefully; examine; test.
  • To free grain or the like from chaff or refuse matter by means of wind.
  • To move about with a flapping motion, as of wings; flutter.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • intransitive verb To separate chaff from grain.
  • transitive verb To separate, and drive off, the chaff from by means of wind; to fan.
  • transitive verb To sift, as for the purpose of separating falsehood from truth; to separate, as bad from good.
  • transitive verb Poetic To beat with wings, or as with wings.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb transitive, agriculture To subject (granular material, especially food grain) to a current of air separating heavier and lighter components, as grain from chaff.
  • verb transitive, figuratively To separate, sift, analyze, or test in this manner.
  • verb transitive, literary To blow upon or toss about by blowing; to set in motion as with a fan or wings.
  • verb intransitive, literary, dated To move about with a flapping motion, as of wings; to flutter.
  • noun That which winnows or which is used in winnowing; a contrivance for fanning or winnowing grain.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb blow away or off with a current of air
  • verb separate the chaff from by using air currents
  • verb blow on
  • verb select desirable parts from a group or list
  • noun the act of separating grain from chaff


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English winnewen, alteration of windwen, from Old English windwian, from wind, wind; see wind.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English winewen, windewen, windwen, from Old English windwian ("to winnow, fan, ventilate"), from Proto-Germanic *wendwōnan (“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").


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word winnow.


  • So he will return to those issues and try to kind of winnow down the states that he pays attention to.

    CNN Transcript Jul 13, 2007 2007

  • Minister of Law and Order Hernus Kriel on Monday rejected out of hand an African National Congress statement that the transitional executive council should "winnow" racist policemen from the South

    ANC Daily News Briefing 1993

  • When dried they are separated from the dust and partly from the outward membranous coat by means of a kind of winnow, and are then laid up in warehouses.

    James Braithwaite, the Supercargo The Story of his Adventures Ashore and Afloat William Henry Giles Kingston 1847

  • Some prominent religious leaders still hope that South Carolina might winnow the field in ways that make it easier for social conservatives to coalesce in later races, such as Florida, which is next on the calendar.

    Hope Dims for an Evangelical Pick Neil King Jr. 2012

  • The transaction would winnow the ranks of hard drive makers—a market that once had dozens of suppliers—to four remaining giants.

    Merger to Create PC Drive Giant Don Clark 2011

  • But I have figured out a chunk of what I want in relationships, which helped me winnow three possibilities down to the one that suits me best (and I know, being poly means it's not a zero-sum game, but I don't like slicing up my time and energy too thin, and there are reasons the other two wouldn't work).

    Thor's Day aquablogathon09 2009

  • Many potential buyers have already stepped forward and the next step is to winnow that group to a handful, said Meade, but the process will pause during a period of mourning for Mrs. Cohen.

    Politics and Prose co-owner Carla Cohen has died Emma Brown 2010

  • Dynegy, instead, embarked on an eight-year process to winnow debt—down from about $15 billion to less than $5 billion by the end of 2010—and avoid bankruptcy, which would have wiped out the value of common shares.

    Dynegy Top Officers, Directors to Leave Rebecca Smith 2011

  • Both sides are expected to take several days to winnow the panel down to a jury of 16.

    Jury selection continues in Levy case Washington Post editors 2010

  • And a room's lighting also greatly affects how colors appear both on the digital image and when painting the walls, she adds, noting that customers should use apps to winnow choices but then try a sample before committing.

    Narrowing 3,500 Paint Choices to 1 Perfect Hue Gwendolyn Bounds 2011


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.