\ ˈdrift How to pronounce drift (audio) \
plural drifts

Definition of drift

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the act of driving something along
b : the flow or the velocity of the current of a river or ocean stream
2 : something driven, propelled, or urged along or drawn together in a clump by or as if by a natural agency: such as
a : wind-driven snow, rain, cloud, dust, or smoke usually at or near the ground surface
b(1) : a mass of matter (such as sand) deposited together by or as if by wind or water
(2) : a helter-skelter accumulation
c : drove, flock
d : something (such as driftwood) washed ashore
e : rock debris deposited by natural agents specifically : a deposit of clay, sand, gravel, and boulders transported by a glacier or by running water from a glacier
3a : a general underlying design or tendency perceiving the drift of the government's policies
b : the underlying meaning, import, or purport of what is spoken or written the drift of a conversation
4 : something (such as a tool) driven down upon or forced into a body
5 : the motion or action of drifting especially spatially and usually under external influence: such as
a : the lateral motion of an aircraft due to air currents
b : an easy moderate more or less steady flow or sweep along a spatial course
c : a gradual shift in attitude, opinion, or position
d : an aimless course especially : a forgoing of any attempt at direction or control
e : a deviation from a true reproduction, representation, or reading especially : a gradual change in the zero reading of an instrument or in any quantitative characteristic that is supposed to remain constant
f : a deliberate, controlled skid by a vehicle turning through a corner at high speed : an instance of automotive drifting Backing off the throttle on corner entries induces a soupçon of oversteer, just enough to allow a little sliding at the apex in an easily controlled four-wheel drift, that most delightful of sports-car experiences—when it doesn't hurl one off a cliff.— Tony Swan

called also powerslide

6a : a nearly horizontal mine passageway driven on or parallel to the course of a vein or rock stratum
b : a small crosscut in a mine connecting two larger tunnels
7a : an assumed trend toward a general change in the structure of a language over a period of time
8 : a grouping of similar flowers planted in an elongated mass


drifted; drifting; drifts

Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1a : to become driven or carried along (as by a current of water, wind, or air) a balloon drifting in the wind
b : to move or float smoothly and effortlessly
2a : to move along a line of least resistance
b : to move in a random or casual way
c : to become carried along subject to no guidance or control the talk drifted from topic to topic
3a : to accumulate in a mass or become piled up in heaps by wind or water drifting snow
b : to become covered with a drift
4 : to vary or deviate from a set course or adjustment

transitive verb

1a : to cause to be driven in a current
b Western US : to drive (livestock) slowly especially to allow grazing
2a : to pile in heaps
b : to cover with drifts

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Other Words from drift


drifty \ ˈdrif-​tē How to pronounce drift (audio) \ adjective


driftingly \ ˈdrif-​tiŋ-​lē How to pronounce drift (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for drift

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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Choose the Right Synonym for drift


tendency, trend, drift, tenor, current mean movement in a particular direction. tendency implies an inclination sometimes amounting to an impelling force. a general tendency toward inflation trend applies to the general direction maintained by a winding or irregular course. the long-term trend of the stock market is upward drift may apply to a tendency determined by external forces the drift of the population away from large cities or it may apply to an underlying or obscure trend of meaning or discourse. got the drift of her argument tenor stresses a clearly perceptible direction and a continuous, undeviating course. the tenor of the times current implies a clearly defined but not necessarily unalterable course. an encounter that changed the current of my life

Examples of drift in a Sentence

Noun the slow drift of the clouds As she got older, you could observe a drift in her writing towards more serious subjects. the government's drift towards a centralization of power Verb The boat slowly drifted out to sea. The clouds drifted across the sky. The snow drifted against the side of the house. Drifting snow covered most of the car. The party guests drifted from room to room, eating and mingling. Her eyes drifted across the crowd. The conversation drifted from topic to topic. My thoughts drifted back to the time when we first met. After he left the army he just drifted for a few years. She drifted from job to job.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Strout writes about a world that is manifestly not prosperous, equitable, or accomplished, and whose inhabitants have been forced into close quarters with failure, drift, and decay. Pankaj Mishra, The New York Review of Books, 20 Oct. 2021 The drift-and-cast walleye bite is heating up around the Lake Erie Islands. cleveland, 7 Oct. 2021 Mission drift set in by 2010, when President Barack Obama's troop surge yielded few tangible results. Lucien Bruggeman, ABC News, 8 Sep. 2021 The characters are thinly and sometimes haphazardly drawn, and a few visual non sequiturs drift by unexplained: for example, a mysterious growing birthmark on Henry’s face (maybe a mark of the rot inside him?) or a sneezy court clerk. Lisa Wong Macabasco, Vogue, 21 Aug. 2021 According to Gartner, data drift and other symptoms of poor data quality cost organizations an average of $12.9 million per year. Rohit Choudhary, Forbes, 27 Sep. 2021 In 2017, New Braunfels’ can ban prohibited disposable containers and large coolers on its Comal and Guadalupe rivers, and tubing enthusiasts eager to drink and drift surged into the San Marcos. Annie Blanks, San Antonio Express-News, 20 Sep. 2021 On the other side, a group called the Conservative Baptist Network formed last year to combat what its members see as drift away from biblical orthodoxy toward liberalism. Ian Lovett, WSJ, 11 June 2021 Study the painting, drift over it, zero in, and space out. Jerry Saltz, Vulture, 22 Sep. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Another group might struggle to remember the rules and occasionally drift from strict observance, though manage to stay in bounds most of the time. Abdul Subhani, Forbes, 11 Oct. 2021 The message from all this to Congress is that the rest of the world will not easily allow a global minimum-tax rate to drift upward to match an uncompetitive U.S. rate, no matter what Ms. Yellen hopes. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 8 Oct. 2021 But those spots are also at capacity, and so ships are sent farther out to drift areas. Francine Kiefer, The Christian Science Monitor, 6 Oct. 2021 Brimer, who has owned the shop just steps from the sand on West Coast Highway for more than 40 years, is used to the unique odors that sometimes drift from the nearby coastline. Los Angeles Times, 3 Oct. 2021 Air quality is expected to remain moderate over the next few days, but smoke from the Northern California wildfires may drift south into the Bay Area, worsening conditions in the region, officials said. Danielle Echeverria, San Francisco Chronicle, 15 Sep. 2021 Smoke from the wildfires burning across the Pacific Northwest will drift over San Diego County through Tuesday, turning the sky a milky color that will mute the sun, says the National Weather Service. Gary Robbins, San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 Aug. 2021 The back-to-back heat waves, coupled with a summer that’s been exceptionally warm and dry overall, are pummeling a region where summer highs usually drift into the 70s or 80s. Gillian Flaccus, Anchorage Daily News, 12 Aug. 2021 The back-to-back heat waves, coupled with a summer that's been exceptionally warm and dry overall, are pummeling a region where summer highs usually drift into the 70s or 80s. Gillian Flaccus, ajc, 12 Aug. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'drift.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of drift


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1600, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 3a

History and Etymology for drift


Middle English; akin to Old English drīfan to drive — more at drive

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Time Traveler for drift

Time Traveler

The first known use of drift was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

22 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Drift.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drift. Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for drift



English Language Learners Definition of drift

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a slow and gradual movement or change from one place, condition, etc., to another
: a large pile of snow or sand that has been blown by the wind
: the general or basic meaning of something said or written



English Language Learners Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

: to move slowly on water, wind, etc.
: to form a pile by being blown by the wind : to form a drift
: to move smoothly or easily in a way that is not planned or guided


\ ˈdrift How to pronounce drift (audio) \

Kids Definition of drift

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the slow movement of something carried by wind or water
2 : a pile of something that has been blown by the wind a drift of snow
3 : a course something appears to be taking the drift of the conversation
4 : the meaning of something said or implied I don't get your drift.


drifted; drifting

Kids Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to move slowly on wind or water
2 : to be piled up by wind or water drifting sand
3 : to move along or change without effort or purpose She drifts from job to job. He drifted in and out of sleep.

Other Words from drift

drifter noun


\ ˈdrift How to pronounce drift (audio) \

Medical Definition of drift

1 : movement of a tooth in the dental arch

Other Words from drift

drift intransitive verb

More from Merriam-Webster on drift

Nglish: Translation of drift for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of drift for Arabic Speakers


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