\ˈdrift \

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

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

b : genetic drift

8 : a grouping of similar flowers planted in an elongated mass



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 \ adjective


driftingly \ˈdrif-​tiŋ-​lē \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for drift

Synonyms: Noun

bank, bar, mound

Synonyms: Verb

bowl, breeze, brush, coast, cruise, flow, glide, roll, sail, skim, slide, slip, stream, sweep, whisk

Antonyms: Verb

flounder, struggle

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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


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


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

The angular drift is about a thousand times worse than what's already on the market. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Awesome tiny gyroscope promising but not ready for prime time," 9 Nov. 2018 And the only way to stop Republicans in Congress from continuing their drift toward the extreme is to be brutally honest about who’s responsible for breaking our politics. Carlos Maza, Vox, "Admit it. Republicans have broken politics.," 29 Oct. 2018 For years, the liberal democracies of western Europe had been worried about the drift towards authoritarianism in the EU’s new members in the east; first in Hungary, and then in Poland. The Economist, "Breaking point: December 2020," 5 July 2018 Perhaps the creative drift is attributable to the departure of Mr. Duffy, who was not only Mr. Jacobs’s partner in business but the person who kept the designer on track and on schedule, sitting beside him in the weeks leading up to a show. Steven Kurutz, New York Times, "How Marc Jacobs Fell Out of Fashion," 2 June 2018 The conservative drift on the Supreme Court may be wrong-headed, but that should only energize unions to work all the more for their members. John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press, "Why unions will survive Supreme Court anti-labor decision," 27 June 2018 He’d snuck out of his bed while a boy named James was wailing and weeping loud enough to make the whirlybird drift over to him with its sleep-inducing syringe. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "A transgender girl rises up against alien invaders in Rich Larson’s novel Annex," 8 July 2018 The Skyhook function also allows the boat to hold heading but drift with the current; or the other way, stay in position but swing freely in heading. Dan Neil, WSJ, "Skip the Seasickness: How Boats Are Getting More Tech-Savvy," 28 June 2018 Erdogan’s anti-Western drift recently has raised alarms among Turkey’s putative allies, with potentially grave consequences for cooperation within NATO, security in Iraq and Syria, and control of immigration flows into Europe. New York Times, BostonGlobe.com, "Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims victory in pivotal Turkish election," 24 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Alaska Volcano Observatory scientists said Wednesday that overnight ash emissions from Mount Veniaminof (VEN’-ee-ah-mean-off) generated an ash plume that drifted more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) to the southeast. Rachel D'oro, The Seattle Times, "Ash from Alaska volcano prompts aviation warning," 21 Nov. 2018 The track succumbs to its own weight about halfway through, and morphs into a cloudy, psychedelic instrumental that drifts off in its final moments into electronic twinkles and wurrs. Mackenzie Cummings-grady, Billboard, "Gorillaz Release Slow-Burning Track 'Fire Flies': Listen," 14 June 2018 But there is a sense that the region is drifting away. The Economist, "Germany’s troubled relations with the Visegrad states show the limits to its power," 14 June 2018 There was the Arturo Álvarez header that drifted just above the crossbar before halftime. Glynn A. Hill, Houston Chronicle, "Dynamo defeat NTX Rayados in first U.S. Open Cup match," 6 June 2018 Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson is running for U.S. Senate as a Washington outsider and anti-politician who drifted from the Democratic Party after going to war and starting a family. Patrick Thomas, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Kevin Nicholson is new to the Republican Party but not political controversy," 4 June 2018 Each holds at least some of Orange County, once a Republican stronghold that has slowly drifted Democratic. NBC News, "How California's primary system could lock out Democrats," 3 June 2018 Arsenal clearly thinking hard about getting in a creator that can drift into wide areas of the pitch or an actual winger. SI.com, "Arsenal to Submit £50m Bid 'in the Coming Days' for Leipzig Playmaker Amid Exit Rumours," 28 May 2018 Dejean didn't give in and forced a pop-out on the next batter and Belle Chasse was able to get the runner out at third who drifted too much off the bag looking to score. Hank Brady, NOLA.com, "Benton 9, Belle Chasse 8 (Game 2): Garrett Hable's late game hit eliminates Cardinals in epic 15-inning battle," 28 Apr. 2018

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 1a

History and Etymology for drift


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

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Statistics for drift

Last Updated

3 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for drift

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

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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.

of snow or sand : 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 \

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 \

Medical Definition of drift 

1 : movement of a tooth in the dental arch

Other Words from drift

drift intransitive verb

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More from Merriam-Webster on drift

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with drift

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for drift

Spanish Central: Translation of drift

Nglish: Translation of drift for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of drift for Arabic Speakers

Comments on drift

What made you want to look up drift? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


living or existing for a long time

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