Flowthrough pretreatment of biomass is a critical step in lignin valorization via conversion of lignin derivatives to high-value products, a function vital to the economic efficiency of biorefinery plants. Comprehensive understanding of lignin behaviors and solubilization chemistry in aqueous pretreatment such as water-only and dilute acid flowthrough pretreatment is of fundamental importance to achieve the goal of providing flexible platform for lignin utilization. In this study, the effects of flowthrough pretreatment conditions on lignin separation from poplar wood were reported as well as the characteristics of three sub-sets of lignin produced from the pretreatment, including residual lignin in pretreated solid residues (ReL), recovered insoluble lignin in pretreated liquid (RISL), and recovered soluble lignin in pretreatment liquid (RSL). Both the water-only and 0.05 % (w/w) sulfuric acid pretreatments were performed at temperatures from 160 to 270 °C on poplar wood in a flowthrough reactor system for 2-10 min. Results showed that water-only flowthrough pretreatment primarily removed syringyl (S units). Increased temperature and/or the addition of sulfuric acid enhanced the removal of guaiacyl (G units) compared to water-only pretreatments at lower temperatures, resulting in nearly complete removal of lignin from the biomass. Results also suggested that more RISL was recovered than ReL and RSL in both dilute acid and water-only flowthrough pretreatments at elevated temperatures. NMR spectra of the RISL revealed significant β-O-4 cleavage, α-β deoxygenation to form cinnamyl-like end groups, and slight β-5 repolymerization in both water-only and dilute acid flowthrough pretreatments. Elevated temperature and/or dilute acid greatly enhanced lignin removal to almost 100 % by improving G unit removal besides S unit removal in flowthrough system. Only mild lignin structural modification was caused by flowthrough pretreatment. A lignin transformation pathway was proposed to explain the complexity of the lignin structural changes during hot water and dilute acid flowthrough pretreatment.Graphical abstractLignin transformations in water-only and dilute acid flowthrough pretreatment at elevated temperatures.