\ ˈdrift How to pronounce drift (audio) \

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
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 drifty (audio) \ adjective


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

Greater Adria broke away from the mother continent about 240 million years ago, beginning a slow drift northward. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Study Reveals Lost Continent Demolished by Europe," 13 Sep. 2019 Operating a vehicle under the influence, Baker Street A Berea woman, 33, was arrested at about 9:45 p.m. Sept. 1 after police saw her Ford Five Hundred drift left of center on Baker near Prospect Street. Bob Sandrick, cleveland.com, "Worker threatens to ‘shoot up’ workplace; woman followed by driver calls police: Berea police blotter," 5 Sep. 2019 Roberts watched burning pine needles and ash drift onto their property. Jeff Parrott, Anchorage Daily News, "Parks Highway homesteaders escape McKinley fire with family and fowl," 22 Aug. 2019 None are full-time professional drivers, and each brings their own car, creating a mix that includes a Lamborghini Huracán, several drift-happy Nissans, a Ford Mustang and other American muscle, and more. Alex Davies, WIRED, "Netflix's Hyperdrive Is American Ninja Warrior for Cars," 21 Aug. 2019 Most of these fish are 5 to 8 pounds—for larger stripers, drift big shad during daylight hours at 60 feet and more on the channel edges. Frank Sargeant, al, "Friday Fishing Report: How heat wave is affecting the bass bite," 13 Sep. 2019 After the two drift off to sleep, Elsa is awoken by the hymn that’s been nagging at her. Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times, "‘Frozen 2' new footage revealed. It’s dazzling," 24 Aug. 2019 The unrushed idyll that unfurls is alive with discovery, flirtation, parties and several characters' boundary-testing drifts between darkness and joy. Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Magari' ('If Only'): Film Review | Locarno 2019," 8 Aug. 2019 During the busy season for hurricanes, patches of stormy weather regularly roll off the African coast and drift across the Atlantic, some with the potential for becoming tropical storms or hurricanes. David Fleshler, sun-sentinel.com, "Hurricane season will soon enter peak period: Latest forecast released," 5 Aug. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Cyrus is drifting through a house party, clearly unsatisfied, before ultimately ending up face-up in a pool — much like the aforementioned animated horse. Christian Holub, EW.com, "Watch Miley Cyrus as a dissatisfied party girl in new 'Slide Away' music video," 6 Sep. 2019 The smoke drifted north throughout the evening and into Monday. Jane Napier Neely, La Cañada Valley Sun, "The Valley Line: Backyard birthday soiree brings songs, smiles all around," 27 Aug. 2019 The kick drifts right, tails left, then soars high between the uprights. Robbie Gonzalez, WIRED, "Why the NFL's Field Goal Record Is Waiting to Be Smashed," 22 Aug. 2019 Smoke drifts into passing traffic, but aside from a few glances, passers-by pay little attention. 1843, "Vietnam’s ghosts are hungry for iPhones," 22 Aug. 2019 Emwazi was drifting after university, in search of meaning for his life, and jihad gave him a higher purpose. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Jihadi John, Domestic Terrorist," 6 Aug. 2019 Anytime Kirby was on screen, though, my mind began drifting to that other (far superior) action franchise. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Hobbs & Shaw Is Loud, Silly, and Pointless," 2 Aug. 2019 Catering to every diet is difficult — in a standard commercial kitchen, there are really no guarantees that a cloud of flour won’t hit a gluten-free pizza or that peanut dust won’t drift from someone’s pad thai to your chicken curry. Maggie Menderski, The Courier-Journal, "Gluten or dairy-free? Try these 7 allergy-friendly places in Louisville," 24 June 2019 Smoke from barbecue grills drifted like fog near the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum table. Vincent T. Davis, ExpressNews.com, "San Antonio Juneteenth Association hosts Juneteenth festival," 16 June 2019

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

8 Oct 2019

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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
informal : 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 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

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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

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