\ 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
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
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

bank, bar, mound

Synonyms: Verb

bowl, breeze, brush, coast, cruise, flow, glide, roll, sail, skim, slide, slip, stream, sweep, whisk

Antonyms: Verb

flounder, struggle

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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


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

Some truly great shows on Netflix can get lost in the drifts. Bill Carter, CNN, "HBO is king, women rule comedy and other takeaways from this year's Emmy nominations," 19 July 2019 The show's drift into mediocrity is a shame, especially since it was initially held up as a breakthrough for women in front of and -- with Arnold's hiring -- behind the camera. Lorraine Ali, chicagotribune.com, "‘Big Little Lies’: How Meryl Streep redeems a mediocre season," 15 July 2019 The show’s drift into mediocrity is a shame, especially since it was initially held up as a breakthrough for women in front of and — with Arnold’s hiring — behind the camera. Lorraine Ali, latimes.com, "'Big Little Lies': How Meryl Streep redeems a mediocre season," 14 July 2019 But the persistent upward drift this year has offered bargain hunters few such chances. Asjylyn Loder, WSJ, "‘Buy the Dip’ Stalls as Sidelined Investors Hunt for Bargains," 7 May 2019 After that election, her drift to the GOP was complete. Gilbert Garcia, ExpressNews.com, "South Side activist led the charge against Harlandale superintendent," 6 July 2019 Why did the Dana, long rumored to be haunted, drift into open waters shortly before the explosion? The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "When that podcast hits a little too close to home," 21 June 2019 But there is indeed wiggle room for a thin dark disk yet, due both to its pinching effect and to additional uncertainty caused by a net drift in the Milky Way stars that have been monitored thus far. Quanta Magazine, "Debate Intensifies Over Dark Disk Theory," 12 Apr. 2016 There are few things as satisfying in the garden as watching hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and the like drift or dart into your private oasis to enjoy the dinner on offer. Paul Cappiello, The Courier-Journal, "Try this trio of pollinator plants for your Kentucky summer garden," 19 July 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Clouds and showers associated with it could drift northward over the next few days and increase rain chances some for south Alabama over the weekend as more moist air reenters the area. Leigh Morgan, al, "Tropical development in Gulf looks unlikely, forecasters say," 25 July 2019 Unlike previous target men like Andy Carroll, 24-year-old Haller can drift out to either wing as well as hold up play and win headers in the centre. SI.com, "5 Strikers West Ham Should Target After Maxi Gomez & Callum Wilson Failures," 13 July 2019 After about a week, the satellites deposited in the third orbit will have drifted apart from one another and the PROX-1 spacecraft will deploy the LightSail 2 cubesat using a small spring. Daniel Oberhaus, WIRED, "SpaceX Is Launching a Solar Sail the Size of a Boxing Ring," 24 June 2019 But people don’t often drift over into being instrumentalists? Quanta Magazine, "The Astronomer Who’d Rather Build Space Cameras," 18 Apr. 2019 Jellyfish would hypnotically drift in the waters as comb jellies flit by, the rows of hairlike combs on their sides glittering like rainbows. Michael Greshko, National Geographic, "Spectacular new fossil bonanza captures explosion of early life," 21 Mar. 2019 At lunch, students ate quickly, then drifted off to strum guitars on their own, chat with instructors or — popularly — jam with each other onstage. Elizabeth Nonemaker, baltimoresun.com, "Guitar maker Paul Reed Smith brings all-star lineup of musicians to help teach a class in Annapolis," 28 Aug. 2019 As Shankar played on stage and the Kentucky girls drifted off to sleep, the first of many rain showers began. Kirby Adams, The Courier-Journal, "'No idea what to expect.' Louisville women remember Woodstock 50 years later," 9 Aug. 2019 Once the front moves through on Friday, the dew point will drift lower. courant.com, "Thursday could bring more afternoon storms," 8 Aug. 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

27 Aug 2019

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
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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with drift

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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).


to make a temporary encampment

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