\ 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 The researchers used models to simulate Earth’s polar drift after the 1990s using two sets of data. Mike Wehner, BGR, "Earth is wobbling, and it’s probably our fault," 27 Apr. 2021 This would provide one small drift of either snowdrops or winter aconite. Tim Johnson, chicagotribune.com, "Early spring flower envy? Get these bulbs in autumn to get colorful winter aconite and snowdrops next year," 4 Apr. 2021 Tower Records Japan’s nine-story flagship store — a hulking, gray colossus proudly defying the local music market’s slow drift toward streaming. Steve Mcclure, Billboard, "Japanese Music Industry Still Fighting Its Physical Attraction," 2 Apr. 2021 The aircraft release the pesticides at between 100 and 300 feet in elevation to minimize drift, according to an environmental assessment. Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Aerial mosquito spraying draws fire from Salt Lake City west-siders, birders and environmentalists," 19 Mar. 2021 White flecked combers and blowing drift were out there. Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune, "Nature is good. More is better, especially these days," 19 Mar. 2021 Automating the continuous monitoring of the IT environment and detecting drift from a strong security posture due to software updates, configuration, product, or staff changes are oftentimes critical. Robert Potter, Forbes, "How To Show Operational Competency Through Security Validation," 12 Mar. 2021 Historical drift is turning into political momentum. Matt Seaton, The New York Review of Books, "The Great Disenchantment: Harry, Meghan & the Monarchy," 9 Mar. 2021 But while the Magic drift away from the postseason with each loss, the movement potentially pushes them closer to a top-four draft position. Roy Parry, orlandosentinel.com, "Playoffs seem out of reach for Magic, but how would a play-in spot affect their draft position?," 19 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The conversations drift into spaces of relationships, love, education, and wellness, but the common denominator for everything remains the same: marijuana. Nicholas Quah, Vulture, "Facebook Bursts Into the Live Audio Scene," 20 Apr. 2021 For Kaya, having the space to drift apart slowly has been hugely beneficial. Vicky Spratt, refinery29.com, "“It Feels Like A Loss”: How COVID Made Friends Drift Apart," 19 Apr. 2021 Sperm and eggs drift freely, and females can lay more than a million in a single season. Jessica Leigh Hester, Wired, "The Feds Want You to Destroy This Sneaky Mussel’s Hiding Spot," 27 Mar. 2021 Socioeconomic position and class interest never drift far apart for long. Christopher Caldwell, The New Republic, "Can There Ever Be a Working-Class Republican Party?," 8 Feb. 2021 McConnell is like a cartoon character striding aside a crack that’s getting wider as the two plates drift farther apart. Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, "Why McConnell Dumped Trump," 23 Jan. 2021 Start taking sides, and audiences will soon drift away. Graham Hillard, Washington Examiner, "Queen and country," 10 Dec. 2020 Particles from vaporizing propellant tanks, computers, solar panels and other exotic materials will form around an 85-kilometer altitude then drift downward, accumulating in the stratosphere along with launch’s soot and alumina. Martin N. Ross, Scientific American, "An Underappreciated Danger of the New Space Age: Global Air Pollution," 6 Nov. 2020 Fairly regularly, Mike would be in the lobby, checking someone in and minding his business when the sound of stomping and shouting would drift in through the old floorboards above his head. Katie Prout, The New Republic, "Inside the Last Men’s Hotel in Chicago," 2 Apr. 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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Statistics for drift

Last Updated

7 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Drift.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drift. Accessed 7 May. 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
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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for drift

Nglish: Translation of drift for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of drift for Arabic Speakers

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