\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

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

Bautista-Mayorga, who illegally crossed the border in early 2016, was arrested May 16 after the Missouri Highway Patrol noticed a car drift onto the shoulder of Interstate 35 about 30 miles northeast of Kansas City. Matt Campbell, kansascity, "Netflix recording of ICE officer shoving lawyer might not be used in investigation," 6 July 2018 Perhaps one of the more controversial changes among value investors is the drift toward growth companies. Michael Wursthorn, WSJ, "Value Investors Face Existential Crisis After Long Market Rally," 4 June 2018 Troll or drift with pogies for tarpon, snook, redfish, jacks, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and bonito are all possible. Mark Blythe, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Central Florida fishing forecast: July 15," 14 July 2018 Some hints, silently acknowledged by the eavesdropping Frida, drift in from people overheard talking off screen. Peter Keough, BostonGlobe.com, "Tragedy from a child’s point of view in ‘Summer 1993’," 7 June 2018 This illustrates how asymmetrical the extremist drift in American politics is. The Economist, "Berned out," 7 June 2018 In places snow drifts were mid-thigh level and our water bottles froze shut. Holly Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, "When the Brooks family ventured to the Brooks Range for a summer adventure, winter reared its head," 1 July 2018 There would be snow drifts and the tracks are relatively narrow. National Geographic, "Why the Short-Lived Pony Express Still Fascinates Us," 23 June 2018 Many Uruguayans enjoy nothing more than setting up a pair of beach chairs by the water, passing around their mate, and letting time drift by as the sun sets over the Río de la Plata. Candace Rose Rardon, Longreads, "The Country Where Fútbol Comes First," 10 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Searchers were at the lake until after midnight Tuesday but were forced to leave because of high winds, darkness and the fact that the sailboat had drifted significantly from the spot where the man fell, the fire department said. Nichole Manna, star-telegram, "Search underway for 19-year-old who drowned in Grapevine Lake," 4 July 2018 Ruth, an ardent feminist and rule-lover, smiles back… until the light slowly drifts from her eyes. refinery29.com, "Does Glow Season 2 Actually Have A Happy Ending?," 29 June 2018 Privacy - Terms Though the operation will not be visible from Powell Gardens, supporters of the botanical attraction worry about possible odor, water quality and plant-harming parasites drifting from the livestock facility. Rick Montgomery, kansascity, "Missouri approves permit to expand cattle feedlot by Powell Gardens; appeal expected," 15 June 2018 The idea that the world is wrong has always been a potent one on this show, and season two has drifted from it just a tiny bit. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "“Kiksuya” is Westworld season 2’s best episode so far," 11 June 2018 Harry and Markle exchanged a quick glance at one another at one point as Curry drifted from his prepared remarks and ad libbed while the queen looked on stoically. Gregory Katz And David Rising, Fox News, "Fiery US bishop brings American flair to royal wedding," 19 May 2018 Back in October 2013, James was living with Hendricks, drifting from motel to motel in Miami. David Ovalle, miamiherald, "After his girlfriend vanished, he kept calling her cell. Turns out, he was the killer | Miami Herald," 8 May 2018 But the plaintive notes of gospel music drifting from speakers and the black bunting draped over a balcony of the building at the center of the activities indicated a more sombre occasion. Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, "William Barber Takes on Poverty and Race in the Age of Trump," 7 May 2018 The smell of Southern soul food drifted from the kitchen. Michael A. Gonzales, The Root, "Roses," 25 Mar. 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

8 Oct 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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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).


one that holds something together

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