\ ˈrif \

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

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Synonyms for riff

Synonyms: Noun

interpretation, take, variation

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Examples of riff in a Sentence


He stole that riff from another song. a mock news program with humorous riffs on current events

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Drawing on Monsieur Dior’s signatures, Simons riffs on the femme fleur and Bar jacket with aplomb. Steff Yotka, Vogue, "A Brief History of Raf Simons’s Storied Career in Fashion," 22 Dec. 2018 The show’s title riffs on a grim, old Soviet joke about a government that continually revised the truth. Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle, "Art Daybook: ‘Atlas’ holds up time," 6 June 2018 In the 1960s, Buren began a long and luminous riff on conceptual work, often incorporating what has become signature vertical stripes. Shonquis Moreno, Curbed, "‘If you take out the art, the building itself can’t stand’," 6 Aug. 2018 That peppy lead single swerves and snaps with falsetto word-salad and an earworm riff, and the video shows Longstreth surrounded by tropical birds bopping to the beat. Zoë Madonna, BostonGlobe.com, "Rays of light from Dirty Projectors on ‘Lamp-Lit Prose’," 11 July 2018 Each chapter presents copious riffs on specific styles, such as chinoiserie, stripes, damask and ikat, while unlocking the secrets to successful layering. Elizabeth Anne Hartman, WSJ, "The Best Interior-Design Books to Give as Holiday Presents," 5 Dec. 2018 Last night the Italian fashion house and Vogue cohosted an intimate cocktail soiree to celebrate their latest collection, Lights Out, a monochromatic riff off of 10 of the brand’s iconic styles in all black. Vogue, "Prada and Vogue Host a Stylish Party to Celebrate the Italian Brand’s Lights Out Collection," 5 Oct. 2018 This new kit still is not a guitar despite all the YouTube videos of musicians shredding Jimi Hendrix riffs on this stuff. Samuel Axon, Ars Technica, "ROLI Songmaker Kit mini-review: Rediscovering my musical roots with fancy new tech," 19 Aug. 2018 Vibras is first of all a reggaeton album, seeing J Balvin riff on Puerto Rico’s answer to hip-hop. Raisa Bruner, Time, "Best Albums of 2018 So Far," 1 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Her jokes often riffed on that identity, skewering her mother's disappointment over her lack of a husband not unlike Midge does. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," 16 Dec. 2018 Users are riffing on the game of the moment, or creating a new one — the weirder your contribution, the better. Julia Alexander, The Verge, "In defense of TikTok, the joyful, slightly cringe-inducing spiritual successor to Vine," 5 Nov. 2018 Few series riff this fast, and the verbal gymnastics are not shortcut with pauses that clutter. Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter, "Critic's Notebook: 'Letterkenny' Is the Canadian Comedy You Didn't Know You Needed," 11 July 2018 The facts: Trump was riffing off an unsupported allegation by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. Hope Yen, The Seattle Times, "Fact-checking President Trump on migrants, Saudis, Hispanic vote," 22 Oct. 2018 The organizations collaborated with local furniture makers on a set of chair patterns riffing on Clara Porset’s interpretation of a classic butaque chair. Diana Budds, Curbed, "4 lessons Mexican designers can teach the world," 19 Oct. 2018 Instead, Che comes out from behind the anchors’ desk, and tours, riffing on the news of the day, decade, and past few centuries. Lauren Mccutcheon, Philly.com, "What you should do down the Shore this weekend," 28 June 2018 An unusual narrative device — Lilly’s sections are told from beyond the grave — helps keep the story interesting, and Pywell clearly has fun riffing on the romance genre’s tropes and overstuffed language. Joumana Khatib, New York Times, "New in Paperback: ‘Augustown,’ ‘The Storied City’," 18 May 2018 Just last month, Diesel announced that Oliver would be working on the launch of the Red Tag project, a three-part collaborative series where designers are invited to create capsule collections riffing on the brand’s heritage. Diana Tsui, The Cut, "Longchamp’s Newest Collaboration Is a Hypebeast’s Dream," 3 May 2018

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.

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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




riffle file

Statistics for riff

Last Updated

9 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for riff

The first known use of riff was in 1935

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More Definitions for riff



English Language Learners Definition of riff

music : a short and usually repeated pattern of notes in a song

: a short set of comments on a particular subject

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Comments on riff

What made you want to look up riff? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


tremendous in size, volume, or degree

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