What Does Separate the Wheat from the Chaff Mean?

Separate the Wheat from the Chaff Meaning

Definition: Select the valuable things/people and take them away from the non-valuable things/people.

In some contexts, a synonymous phrase is to weed out.

Origin of Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

This expression first appeared in the Bible. It is a metaphor that speaks about how God will separate those who are worthy and those who are unworthy.

  • His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

It comes from the age-old practice of literally separating wheat from chaff. When winnowing grain, farmers wanted to remove all chaff from wheat. In the literal meaning, chaff is the husk around a seed, which one does not eat. In order to eat the wheat, one must remove the chaff.

The expression persists to this day.

Examples of Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

separating the wheat from the chaff In this conversation, two high-school students are discussing an exam that all high-school students must take.

Lisa: Hey! Are you taking the SAT next week?

Annie: No, not yet. I want to study some more.

Lisa: You can always take it again if you don’t get a good score.

Annie: I guess that’s true. Maybe I’ll sign up for it.

Lisa: You should because this test is really important for getting into university. The more practice you can get, the better you’ll perform. It’s how colleges separate the wheat from the chaff.

Annie: What do you mean?

Lisa: I mean that’s how colleges choose the best students, and know to not accept those who aren’t prepared.

God will separate the wheat from the chaff In the dialogue below, two friends are talking about trying out for a soccer team.

Seth: It’s almost soccer season! Are you thinking about starting to play again?

Jimmy: Yeah. I’d like to, but I’m nervous about having to try out for a team. I’m worried that the coach will want to separate the wheat from the chaff, and I’ll be discarded.

Seth: Well, if you’re worried about not being chosen as good enough, you could always join a team with no try-outs.

Jimmy: Maybe I’ll do that.

More Examples

This excerpt uses the idiom in an article about a budget crisis that resulted in laying off teachers.

  • It’s not based on which teachers perform best. It’s called Last-In, First-Out, or LIFO. The LIFO provision means that when the budget ax must fall, it will fall exclusively on the newest teachers. There’s no other metric for eliminating teachers in a crisis — not talent, not energy, not potential. Imagine any other business in which the only consideration for laying off employees is the number of years they’ve worked. In Santa Ana, to paraphrase the old Spanish saying, we separate the wheat from the chaff — and throw out the wheat. –OC Register

This excerpt is from an article about genetically modified food.

  • There’s plenty to worry about when it comes to relying on technology rather than sustainable farming methods. But it won’t be a healthy debate until we separate the wheat from the chaff. –LA Times


The phrase separate the wheat from the chaff is a biblical expression that means a judge will choose the good people and discard the bad people.