To bake a cake, you sift the flour to get out the lumps. When you sift, you separate out one thing from another.

When you sort through the mail looking for the bills or go through your photos to find that shot of your dog, that’s sifting, too. Detectives sift through piles of evidence when investigating crimes, and you might sift through the hundred applications you get from drummers eager to join your band, to find Ms. Right. When you're at the beach, you can sift sand through your fingers, and you might see big machines that sift the sand to clean it.

Definitions of sift

v move as if through a sieve

“The soldiers sifted through the woods”
Type of:
go, locomote, move, travel
change location; move, travel, or proceed, also metaphorically

v separate by passing through a sieve or other straining device to separate out coarser elements

sift the flour”
sieve, strain
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sieve so that it becomes the consistency of rice
sift anew
riddle, screen
separate with a riddle, as grain from chaff
fan, winnow
separate the chaff from by using air currents
Type of:
divide into components or constituents

v distinguish and separate out

sift through the job candidates”
Type of:
choose, pick out, select, take
pick out, select, or choose from a number of alternatives

v check and sort carefully

sift the information”
Type of:
analyse, analyze, canvas, canvass, examine, study
consider in detail and subject to an analysis in order to discover essential features or meaning