\ 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 Parts of Interstate 80 in Wyoming were buried under snow drifts of up to 4 feet, officials said. David Koenig, chicagotribune.com, "Snow causes travel mayhem across U.S. just before Thanksgiving," 26 Nov. 2019 Parts of Interstate 80 in Wyoming were buried under snow drifts of up to 4 feet, officials said. Arkansas Online, "Snow causes travel mayhem across U.S. just before Thanksgiving," 26 Nov. 2019 Another culprit for the new socialist craze is the strange leftward drift of the very wealthy in Silicon Valley, in corporate America, and on Wall Street. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "History Has Shown That Socialism Isn’t the Cure," 7 Nov. 2019 Smith sees mystical connections everywhere—and, floating along on the drifts of her words, the reader does, too. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted Book Reviews," 1 Oct. 2019 The world’s coastal marine fisheries form a single network, thanks to the drift of larvae along ocean currents. James Rising, The Conversation, "Fish larvae float across national borders, binding the world’s oceans in a single network," 18 Sep. 2019 The drift of the official discourse, which so dominates the scene, is one of a gradual progression towards normalcy when the situation on the ground presents a contradictory picture. Riyaz Wani, Quartz India, "After three weeks of lockdown, this is what Kashmir looks like," 22 Aug. 2019 Hickenlooper focused his White House bid on his record as a governor who accomplished results by working with all sides, but who also pushed back against the leftward drift of the Democratic Party. Fox News, "Hickenlooper expected to end White House bid Thursday, sources say," 15 Aug. 2019 The study shows how the chemical ingredients of pollution — including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, black carbon, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds — react with each other and sunlight to create the deadly drift of PM2.5 and ozone. John Fialka, Scientific American, "Reducing China’s CO2 Emissions Would Curb Deadly Air Pollution in the U.S.," 26 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Support for independence is growing among Remainers, suggesting that the No/Remainers are drifting towards the SNP. The Economist, "Scotland’s three-dimensional election," 30 Nov. 2019 Some former supporters have drifted away; even those who remain committed to the cause have been troubled by the violence. Jessie Yeung, CNN, "We 'shouldn't have to give our lives:' Hong Kong protester shot by police speaks out," 23 Nov. 2019 And as more beach sand drifts away, the lake bed deepens, allowing even taller waves to crash ashore and further increasing erosion. Mary Wisniewski, chicagotribune.com, "Following severe fall storms, Chicago launches shoreline protection project at Juneway Beach," 18 Nov. 2019 In those actions, many here saw López Obrador drifting away from his leftist roots and toward a kind of centrism, particular in his foreign policy. Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, "Leftist leaders Morales, López Obrador renew ties as former Bolivian president accepts asylum in Mexico," 12 Nov. 2019 In some areas, such as the state’s badlands, the chemicals were found in deer where there’s little agriculture, raising the possibility that the chemicals are drifting over large distances. Dave Orrick, Twin Cities, "Are pesticides poisoning Minnesota’s deer? Deer hunters will offer up spleens — deer spleens — as part of study.," 5 Nov. 2019 His vehicle had drifted left of center before hitting the parked vehicle. Bob Sandrick, cleveland, "Intoxicated driver crashes car into freeway median; man with handgun confronts repo man: Brook Park Police Blotter," 1 Nov. 2019 The Fed has failed to sustainably hit its 2 percent inflation target since formally adopting it in 2012, and various measures of consumer and market inflation expectations have recently drifted lower. Jeanna Smialek, New York Times, "Federal Reserve Cuts Interest Rates for Third Time in 2019," 30 Oct. 2019 The deal with Russia -- the first such arrangement between Russia and a NATO member -- raised concerns that Turkey is drifting ever closer to Moscow’s sphere of influence. Fox News, "Liz Cheney, others in GOP spearhead bid to sanction Turkey for Syria invasion," 11 Oct. 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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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

3 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Drift.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/driftingly?pronunciation&lang=en_us&dir=d&file=drift003. Accessed 14 December 2019.

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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

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