Definition of winnow in English:



  • 1[with object] Blow a current of air through (grain) in order to remove the chaff.

    • ‘A person in clean moccasins then ‘danced the rice’ treading on it to remove the hull and then tossing it into the air to winnow the chaff.’
    • ‘As, when grain is shaken and winnowed by fans and other instruments used in the threshing of corn, the close and heavy particles are borne away and settle in one direction, and the loose and light particles in another.’
    1. 1.1 Remove (chaff) from grain.
      ‘women winnow the chaff from piles of unhusked rice’
      • ‘The chaff is winnowed out by the activities of millions of independent actions.’
      • ‘Now that most of the chaff has been winnowed I hope to be able to concentrate on the wheat.’
      • ‘There is even a sign in the tourist office - of all places - for a ‘hand-power riddling and winnowing combinated machine on rent.’’
      • ‘These include the preparation of new fields, preparing existing fields, ploughing, planting, harvesting, threshing, winnowing, and storing the grain.’
      • ‘Also you may occasionally see her out in the fields helping her mother, Memnet, crush and winnow the grain.’
      • ‘To winnow the wheat from the chaff and to prepare it in an easily digested shape for the tender stomachs of first- and second-year students taxes the resources of the most capable teacher.’
      • ‘A woman winnowing grain in the Virunga National Park.’
      • ‘Shaggy yaks stomp around threshing circles, ears of barley are thrashed with sticks and winnowed by singing villagers in twos and threes.’
      • ‘They will have the chance to try reaping, stooking, threshing, winnowing and milling and, if they still have the energy, cooking as they take part in the entire harvest process from field to plate.’
      • ‘A 19th century hand-powered barn winnowing machine using volunteers' muscle power will then separate the grain from the chaff before milling, using machines from replica Stone Age querns to a Bamford mill powered by a 1930 tractor.’
      • ‘Days like this become a file of lingering images: women winnowing grain, children carrying almost their own weight in firewood, and meeting a Hindu sadhu on pilgrimage.’
      • ‘In the countryside, her duties include caring for children, home, and garden, as well as transplanting, harvesting, and winnowing the rice.’
      • ‘The jigged rice was winnowed with a bark tray to separate the chaff.’
      • ‘After all the grain have been removed from the mahangu heads this grain must be winnowed to remove the husks.’
      separate, divide, sort out
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    2. 1.2 Remove (people or things) from a group until only the best ones are left.
      ‘the contenders had been winnowed to five’
      ‘guidelines that would help winnow out those not fit to be soldiers’
      • ‘She contends that women winnow competing ideas less through hostile scrutiny than by getting inside another's mind, and often by way of friendly conversation.’
      • ‘You spend the vast majority of your time winnowing the application pile - i.e., finding reasons not to hire someone.’
    3. 1.3 Find or identify (a valuable or useful part of something)
      ‘amidst this welter of confusing signals, it's difficult to winnow out the truth’
      • ‘Analysts attempt to winnow a few kernels of truth from a mass of falsehood in order to construct a comprehensible mosaic from a swiftly flowing stream of uncertain data.’
      • ‘To the extent that the FDA has helped winnow the mainstream drug market down to scientifically proven treatments, it has been a help rather than hindrance.’
      • ‘His distaste for hypotheses is the natural reaction of a man in possession of a far superior instrument for winnowing truth from error.’
      separate out, sift out, filter out, isolate, sort out, find, identify, ferret out
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  • 2literary [no object] (of the wind) blow.

    ‘the autumn wind winnowing its way through the grass’
    1. 2.1[with object] (of a bird) fan (the air) with wings.


Old English windwian, from wind (see wind).