\ ˈrif How to pronounce riff (audio) \

Definition of riff

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : an ostinato phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation also : a piece based on such a phrase
2 : a rapid energetic often improvised verbal outpouring especially : one that is part of a comic performance
3 : a succinct usually witty comment
4 : a distinct variation : take a disturbing … riff on the Cinderella story— Daria Donnelly


verb (1)
riffed; riffing; riffs

Definition of riff (Entry 2 of 3)

intransitive verb

: to perform, deliver, or make use of a riff


verb (2)
riffed; riffing; riffs

Definition of riff (Entry 3 of 3)

: riffle, skim riff pages

Synonyms for riff

Synonyms: Noun

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Examples of riff in a Sentence

Noun He stole that riff from another song. a mock news program with humorous riffs on current events
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The restaurant's standout dish is a Korean riff on fettuccine made with fresh squid ink noodles and meaty king mushrooms in a sumptuous pollock roe sauce hit with parm. Andi Berlin, The Arizona Republic, 7 Aug. 2022 The film, directed with an alluring blend of badinage and upper-crust sensuality by Emma Holly Jones, is based on a novel by Suzanne Allain (who wrote the screenplay), which was published in 2020 and designed to be a playful riff on Jane Austen. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 1 July 2022 Turndown Service Readers of The Umbrella Academy comics will recognize the Hotel Obsidian, which is a riff on the third series, The Umbrella Academy 3: Hotel Oblivion. Maggie Fremont, EW.com, 22 June 2022 The performance was a fresh riff on the song’s video, which premiered in June 2021 and was shot in Batiste’s hometown of New Orleans. Ingrid Schmidt, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Apr. 2022 The audience screamed with laughter as Schumer ran through her jokes about buttholes, hyperemesis, and Viagra, and settled into a riff about her husband of five years, Chris Fischer. Ariel Levy, The New Yorker, 29 Aug. 2022 Whole Foods store-brand riff on the classic is made with eight ingredients, like cream, vanilla extract, a blend of stabilizers, and annatto extract for color. Ali Francis, Bon Appétit, 29 Aug. 2022 Where jacket requirements could be perceived as an effort to keep the riff-raff out, Mar sees it as a way of reminding diners that a great meal isn’t just about eating. Kareem Rashed, Robb Report, 28 Aug. 2022 Arab American merchants first began populating the area in the 1980s, when it was popularly known as the Gaza Strip — a riff on the nearby Garza Island neighborhoods. Gabriel San Románstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 26 Aug. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb In November 2011, comic book artist Eric Colossal was one of the first Twitter users to riff off the story. WIRED, 21 Sep. 2022 The Americana tropes of the 1950s that were so prevalent in the spring menswear collections take the form of deb dresses and khakis that riff on GI favorites. Laird Borrelli-persson, Vogue, 13 July 2022 The best of #DanceTok is both unique and adaptable; a base that dancers can repeat and riff off, putting their own spin on it. Camille Squires, Quartz, 11 Mar. 2022 TikTok has normalized a collaborative spirit among its users that encourages people to riff on one another’s work and respond to prompts with innovation. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, 31 Mar. 2022 Keith Urban was making memories with a gaggle of Las Vegas high school students on Thursday, even inviting one of them to come onstage and riff with him a bit during a private soundcheck. Mark Gray, PEOPLE.com, 25 Mar. 2022 Lyne, the director of slick, steamy ‘80s entertainments like Fatal Attraction and 9 ½ Weeks, is trying to riff on his greatest hits. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, 18 Mar. 2022 Of course, Meyers found that note funny and had to riff with a joke. Ryan Parker, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Mar. 2022 The genius of the cake is that there’s room to riff at pretty much every step. Bon Appétit, 1 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'riff.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of riff


1935, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb (1)

1948, in the meaning defined above

Verb (2)

1952, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for riff


probably by shortening & alteration from refrain

Verb (2)

short for riffle

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Dictionary Entries Near riff

rife with



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Last Updated

16 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Riff.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/riff. Accessed 2 Oct. 2022.

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