Definition of winnow in English:



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

    ‘a combine cuts, threshes, and winnows the grain in one operation’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    1. 1.1Remove (chaff) from grain.
      ‘women winnow the chaff from piles of unhusked rice’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘There is even a sign in the tourist office - of all places - for a ‘hand-power riddling and winnowing combinated machine on rent.’’
      • ‘After all the grain have been removed from the mahangu heads this grain must be winnowed to remove the husks.’
      • ‘In the countryside, her duties include caring for children, home, and garden, as well as transplanting, harvesting, and winnowing the rice.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Now that most of the chaff has been winnowed I hope to be able to concentrate on the wheat.’
      • ‘Shaggy yaks stomp around threshing circles, ears of barley are thrashed with sticks and winnowed by singing villagers in twos and threes.’
      • ‘The chaff is winnowed out by the activities of millions of independent actions.’
      • ‘The jigged rice was winnowed with a bark tray to separate the chaff.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      separate, divide, sort out
      View synonyms
  • 2Remove (people or things) from a group until only the best ones are left.

    ‘guidelines that would help winnow out those not fit to be soldiers’
    • ‘But they comforted themselves knowing they'd picked up a couple of governorships, winnowing the Republican lead to 24-23.’
    • ‘Show producers are now winnowing the group to 12 hopefuls for America's first reality-TV primary.’
    • ‘It's easy to fall in love with particular images, even mediocre ones, but with time it also becomes easier to winnow the wheat from the chaff.’
    • ‘Time will winnow the wheat from the chaff but it won't diminish the pleasure of Lane's reviews.’
    • ‘The lack of small, easily transported elements in the collection also suggests current activity, as such elements may be quickly winnowed out of a bone assemblage.’
    • ‘Chris Waywell winnows the wheat from the chaff in this elusive subject.’
    • ‘The court is now able to winnow the grain from the chaff, as the Photo Production reasoning is embodied in the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, s. 9.’
    1. 2.1Find 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.’
      • ‘His distaste for hypotheses is the natural reaction of a man in possession of a far superior instrument for winnowing truth from error.’
      • ‘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.’
      separate out, sift out, filter out, isolate, sort out, find, identify, ferret out
      View synonyms
  • 3literary [no object] (of the wind) blow.

    ‘the autumn wind winnowing its way through the grass’
    1. 3.1[with object](of a bird) fan (the air) with its wings.
      ‘the emperors of the sky winnowing the air’


Old English windwian, from wind (see wind).