\ 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
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 drifty (audio) \ adjective


driftingly \ ˈdrif-​tiŋ-​lē How to pronounce driftingly (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 On the other hand, the anti-Trump works of Republican defectors and Lincoln Project types lack credibility—there is not enough introspection about the GOP’s pre-Trump drift into nativism and demagoguery. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "What Did Carlos Lozada Learn From Reading 150 Trump Books?," 15 Oct. 2020 For much of the mission, the Polarstern was carried by the natural ice drift, pushed on by the wind, while researchers from 20 countries collected data about the environment and climate change. NBC News, "Arctic researcher warns the 'the ice is dying' after landmark expedition," 13 Oct. 2020 This means real-world effects on your physical Kart, too; a Red Shell or Piranha Plant gate will stop your Kart temporarily, while a Sandstorm or Magnet Gate actually makes your Kart drift left or right briefly. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Going in-depth with Nintendo’s augmented reality Mario Kart RC car," 1 Oct. 2020 An autonomous Europe without the guiding hand of Washington, however, would be prone to dithering, duplication, and drift — and vulnerable to division by a revanchist Russia and emerging China. Peter Rough, National Review, "The Bull in Europe’s China Shop," 27 Sep. 2020 The easy drift of this soft September midmorning is made mellow by the mellifluous humming of a fan, expediting a balmy breeze across the room to myself, sitting at my desk exploring the keyboard’s reach with every touch. Star Tribune, "Readers Write: The election and a peaceful transfer of power, city planning, summer's end," 24 Sep. 2020 Weixlmann will fish it under floats on a dead drift. Andrew Pegman, Field & Stream, "12 Hot Fly Patterns for Great Lakes Steelhead," 2 Sep. 2020 Tufts of undercoat loosen, drift on the wind, clump on wet pavement. Catharina Coenen, The Christian Science Monitor, "In which I witness someone falling in love," 23 Sep. 2020 The drift boat was conceived to ply its icy waters, and the area is full of history and characters. Andy Nelson, oregonlive, "First views behind the fire lines along McKenzie River ‘shocking and numbing’," 12 Sep. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb With onshore winds coming, pockets of unhealthy air quality may likely drift over to the rest of the Bay Area. Annie Vainshtein, SFChronicle.com, "Bay Area’s wildfire weather outlook mixed: Calmer winds but more heat, dry conditions," 28 Sep. 2020 Even though the pumps are fixed, Imperial Beach is still vulnerable to sewage from Punta Banderas, the pump station six miles south of the border, during south swells that cause sewage to drift north to Imperial Beach. Gustavo Solis, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Mexican governor, California mayor launch war of words over cross-border sewage spills," 26 Sep. 2020 Biofilm’s opposite term is planktonic, an individual organism—a word formed from the sea creatures that, in turn, is from the Greek for to wander or drift. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, "Hot New Medicine: This 1,000-Year-Old Mixture of Garlic, Onion, Wine, and Cow Bile," 31 July 2020 The centerback bulked up the defense, which in turn boosted the Lions' counterattack by allowing the forward line to drift higher up the field. Julia Poe, orlandosentinel.com, "3 things we learned from Orlando City’s win over Sporting Kansas City," 24 Sep. 2020 As this happened, the vehicle began to drift away from its planned trajectory. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "Astra finally launches its first orbital rocket, and it flew for 30 seconds," 14 Sep. 2020 Built to sail the oceans, the semi-submersible vessel was designed—after a seahorse—to float vertically and drift with the ocean currents. Elissaveta M. Brandon, Smithsonian Magazine, "Jacques Cousteau’s Grandson Wants to Build the International Space Station of the Sea," 24 Aug. 2020 New daily coronavirus cases continued to drift down from July highs this week, but deaths remained elevated, a legacy of the surge of new infections that swept the South and West last month. Allison Prang And David Hall, WSJ, "New Coronavirus Cases Below 50,000 in U.S. for Sixth Straight Day," 21 Aug. 2020 Be careful not to allow spray to drift to other plants, many of which are susceptible. oregonlive, "Fighting off invasive weeds in Oregon requires multiple strategies," 11 Aug. 2020

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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Statistics for drift

Last Updated

21 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Drift.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drift. Accessed 21 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for drift


How to pronounce drift (audio)

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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