Let's say I have a list of books, and I want to remove some of them from the list. Is there a word that describes this process? Ideally a verb that can be applied to the list.

For example:

I want to ____ this list of books.

The best I could come up with is "cull", but cull usually refers to the selective slaughter of animals and I'm not sure it would be appropriate in this case.


20 Answers 20


Trim (MWD):

 1. c. to free of excess or extraneous matter by or as if by cutting

  • trim a budget

  • trim down the inventory

  • All answers are good suggestions, but I prefer this one, because the word should already be part of the vocabulary of most people, and thus its meaning in the given context should should also easily be recognized.
    – Chrisuu
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 12:23
  • 19
    I don't like this answer because to me it means to remove the end of the list, not selected elements of it. e.g. "to trim hair"
    – river
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 2:15
  • @river: Hair is a bad example since it's impossible to arbitrarily remove only a part of hair that's not on the end. Hair is a connected chain, but a list is a loose connection of items with no inherent order or chaining. A better example is thinking of trimming a rose bush. The surface of the rose bush can have many bits poking out, distributed all over the rose bush, and you trim away the ones you don't like. That essentially mirrors the idea of removing items from the list based on their own value and not based on their position in the list.
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 10:59
  • @Chrisuu For this answer to work you actually have to use the phrasal verb trim down. The verb trim actually means "cut off the end", trim down is the verb you want that means "reduce in number." I'd say the answer isn't correct because of that, the top line should have been trim down not trim
    – minseong
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 17:19
  • 1
    @theonlygusti it's right there in the second bullet point...
    – 0xFEE1DEAD
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 17:44

Rather gentler than cull is prune as used with plants. It's used metaphorically (including in programming) - think of cutting out the deadwood and other unwanted material.

  • 1
    I really like this one too! It is unfortunate I can only accept one answer.
    – Chrisuu
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 23:10
  • 1
    Yes, "cull" often implies a certain amount of brutality, severity, or irregularity in the operation, whereas "prune" has a more sedate and regular connotation. Whether the list in this case will be culled or pruned is for the OP to decide!
    – Steve
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 14:10

Pare down would be a good choice.




[with object]

1.2 Reduce (something) in size, extent, or quantity in a number of small successive stages.

union leaders publicly pared down their demands

When he wrote the play, his intention was that there should be no excess and so each scene is pared down to exactly what he wants to say.

used with list:

Advisers first help a student select 20 to 25 colleges, prodding the student along until he or she pares down the list to the eight or so to be considered seriously. (Guidance For Sale, TAMALA M. EDWARDS, Time Magazine: 1999/11/01)

Oregon plans to expand its Medicaid program to cover all families under the poverty line, but also to ration their care by paring down the list of medical procedures Medicaid would pay for. (new game-plans take shape in Washington, Christian Science Monitor , 1991/11/26)


In the context of programming, filter is universally used to describe the process of taking a list and removing items from it based on some criteria.* The Cambridge dictionary has:

to select or remove a particular type of information from something:

  • This command filters the search results by location.
  • The software is well suited to small phone screens because it filters out unnecessary information.
  • Most email apps use spam filtering tools.

*Some programming languages will create a new list instead of modifying the original one, but the concept is the same

  • 3
    Note that there's some ambiguity as to the object of the verb: sometimes it identifies the items removed from the list, other times it identifiers the items kept in the list… (The phrasal verb ‘to filter out’ covers the former explicitly, but I don't know of one covering the latter.)
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 21:54
  • @gidds: Perhaps “select”, although that refers to the items, not the list itself
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 23:12
  • @gidds: Using the adjective (i.e. "a filtered list") focuses on the retained items as opposed to the ones that were filitered out. I'm not sure there's a "filter"-related verb phrase that conveys the same unambiguity.
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 10:45
  • There is a parallel here with how the result of integer division is commonly described with two words, the dividend and the modulus (the remainder). When you filter a list of book titles, you may be interested in the "dividend" (what was filtered out), How many titles in the list were written by Dr Seuss?, or you may be interested in the "modulus" (what the filter "missed") How many titles remain in the list after removing all the no-longer-politically-correct titles? Is the filtered-list "the 'new' list of what was filtered out" or "the 'old' list that remains after all the filter-removals"? Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 19:09

winnow - to reduce a large number of people or things to a much smaller number by judging their quality


Two words, but you could use "whittle down".

Merriam Webster: To gradually make (something) smaller by removing parts.


In the context of a list of items, the simplest and most direct verb is shorten:

1 a : to reduce the length or duration of


I want to shorten this list of books.

  • I would generally interpret shortening in this context to be equivalent to truncating, i.e. removing items based on their position in the list rather than their adherence to certain selection criteria.
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 10:48

Edit works well here:

I want to edit this list of books.

Edit can mean delete, correct, revise, or modify. So you can add or substitute books as well as remove them.

Further reading: edit definition at The Free Dictionary


  • Editing the list implies changing the list itself rather than taking a subset from it. If a library edits its list of books, then the library's entire book collection is different than it was before. But if a library makes a filtered list of books (e.g. non-fiction), then they're showing a subset of their entire book collection. OP's question leaves either interpretation possible so I'm not saying this answer is wrong, but I do want to point out that it only applies to some, not all cases applicable to the question
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 10:50

Another useful word is "sift." It fits the criteria of wanting to remove things according to a certain rule, and it doesn't literally refer to sifting flour (cf. sieve of Eratosthenes).



To weed -


7a. transitive. To remove or exclude books, documents, etc., regarded as superfluous or not worth retaining from (a library, file, collection of papers, etc.)

1981 M. Pye King over Water 265 British files in London have been weeded with an eye to royal embarrassment.

  • I see someone beat me to it -- this is the term that's used in the library community. I should mention though that it's not just removal from a list -- it's removal from the library as a whole. All libraries do it regularly; it's usually either done for condition (ie, damaged books) or lack of circulation (ie, books that haven't been checked out in the past year) to clear shelf space for new materials.
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 1:44

In software, we have lists of features that might be added in the future. Periodically, we review the list and remove items (along with prioritizing the list). We call this refinement, from the verb refine

to free (something, such as metal, sugar, or oil) from impurities or unwanted material

Cherry-pick seems like a likely answer. Thus you want to reduce the total number of books by selecting only the best books from the whole set of books.

Merriam-Webster: cherry-pick, intransitive verb : to select the best or most desirable

  • Cherry pick suggests using the list as the source from which to form a new list with substantially fewer items in it rather than operating on the original.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 3:46
  • Cherry pick also has negative connotations, suggesting that the selection of the "most desirable" is applied from a biased point of view. Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 4:09
  • Other than the negative connotation, cherry-picking also implies taking elements one by one, evaluating those selections individually and consecutively; which is different from applying a single selection criterium across an entire list (which is a single bulk selection, instead of a chain of individual selections)
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 10:53

'Curate' - I curate the booklist to make sure it remains up-to-date and relevant.

  • Curation implies particular selection criteria, i.e. making a "recommended" lists or weeding out bad entries. Curation wouldn't really apply in cases where the selection criteria are neutral (e.g. listing all non-fiction books in a library).
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 10:55

Weed out the list, means to reduce non essential entries. That is what they do with list of job applicants.


'Extract' - I want to extract from this list of books only those with no deaths.


'Refine' - I want to refine my list of books to those appropriate for children.

  • Welcome to EL&U. It is recommended that answers are supported by reputable sources (dictionary deffinitions, citations as examples of usage etc.). For this particular answer it also seems that another user has been a bit faster - two same answers would not be of much use for future users who have a simmilar question. For more information please take the site tour or visit the help center and English Language & Usage Meta.
    – Lucky
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 20:46

Ah, so many nuanced choices!
'Screen' - I want to screen this list of books for only pre-1960 publications.


In a programmatic sense, the correct term would be to filter. Taking any list and creating a new one from it where each item is matched against a given criteria. Should said item match, it will be added to another list which be the list finishing the operation - thus leaving a culled list.

P.S. @mowwwalker has correctly mentioned this also, and I would like to note that his answer is equally correct.


Shorten is a common term for a list because lists have length. decimate is used for very long lists.


Check Off

It would require a slight rewording of your sentence, but

I want to check this book off of my list.

Though you probably get away with

I want to checkoff some books from my list.

  • 1
    The nuance here is that "check off" typically means "mark as completed". A book "checked off" a list would typically be one that has been read, not one that has been rejected as unworthy of reading. Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 4:11
  • @DewiMorgan Generally yes, but if I've got a series on my list and the first book is bad, I'll just check 'em all off my list. I might also checkoff a book that is unavailable for whatever reason (library doesn't have, OOP & $$$, etc).
    – aslum
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 12:58

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