\ 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
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

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 Arsenal was the team with the momentum, Tottenham the team in drift. Rory Smith, New York Times, "At Arsenal, Rewriting the Story May Take a Bit More Time," 1 Sep. 2019 In my twinned Johnson and Charlesworth pieces there’s ekphrastic writing, about a specific collage — which is its own challenge, how language can conjure a work of art — but then the pieces drift and hopefully go to weird places. Tobias Carroll, Longreads, "‘I Surprise Myself With This Refusal To Let Go’: Kate Zambreno on the ‘Ghostly Correspondence’," 25 July 2019 There, spectators watch as cars drift and do burnout circles, commonly known as donuts. oregonlive.com, "‘Back to the drawing board’: Portland police reassess street racing prevention," 18 July 2019 The notes feel like bubbles loosened in the water, which drift and then pop. Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle, "Mark Knopfler stops time in Sugar Land," 7 Sep. 2019 The new court filing also quotes a Woods Hole oceanographer emeritus, Richard Limeburner, as saying ocean current and wind data and information from weather buoys and other sources contradict Carman’s account of an eight-day drift. Josh Kovner, courant.com, "Fishing boat captain’s report challenges Nathan Carman’s account of his sinking boat, mother’s disappearance, escape by raft," 18 July 2019 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Due to the large fire at an Ohio metal scrapyard, smoky smells or plastic odors might be drifting through Washtenaw throughout Tuesday, the sheriff's office is warning. Emma Keith, Detroit Free Press, "Here's the weird scent you might smell in southern Michigan today," 10 Sep. 2019 That led to thunderstorms in the mountains and desert, with a few storms drifting to the coast Wednesday, plus the uncomfortably sticking days. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Relief from heat, humidity should be on the way," 5 Sep. 2019 There’s a shot of fireworks bursting over the Stillwater Lift Bridge taken by photographer Dale Peterson on the Fourth of July 2017 and a photo of two hot-air balloons drifting over downtown. Mary Divine, Twin Cities, "New photo book showcases Stillwater," 14 Sep. 2019 The National Hurricane Center said at 11 p.m. Sunday, in its last Dorian advisory, that the storm was drifting east-northeast past Cape Race, Newfoundland, off the far tip of Canada. Christopher Martin, chicagotribune.com, "36 hours of pummeling just one spot made Dorian unique," 12 Sep. 2019 Little is known about how big such plumes might be, but computer models suggest silt released in some parts of the ocean could drift 10 kilometers or more before settling back onto the sea floor, potentially smothering creatures living there. Warren Cornwall, Science | AAAS, "Mountains hidden in the deep sea are biological hot spots. Will mining ruin them?," 12 Sep. 2019 The bottle began drifting off the shore of Destin before washing ashore 20 miles down the coast. USA TODAY, "Animation behind bars, Elliott the elk, SkyStar: News from around our 50 states," 10 Sep. 2019 That day, Gray was shooting footage of a craft filled with drifting dead bodies. Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, "James Gray’s Journey from the Outer Boroughs to Outer Space," 9 Sep. 2019 Last year’s event brought 230,000 people and Sunday’s turnout appeared just as large as visitors drifted by the local artisans, food booths and nonprofits while electric blues, jazz, salsa and other bands added an energetic pulse to the day. Evan Sernoffsky, SFChronicle.com, "‘Perfect day’ at Solano Stroll, the East Bay’s largest street festival," 8 Sep. 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

5 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for drift

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

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on drift

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for drift

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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).


concealed or difficult to comprehend

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