\ 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

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

From lo-fi hip-hop takes to jazzy riffs and full-on electronic dance reworks, these are our six favorite Nas remixes. Kat Bein, Billboard, "The 5 Best Nas Remixes," 15 June 2018 Angst and anger, which are a big part of Eastman’s psyche, turn to beauty and grace, thanks to jubilant riffs on high wind instruments. Mark Swed, latimes.com, "The ecstasy of Julius Eastman's ‘Femenine,’ and how angst and anger turn to beauty and grace," 23 May 2018 Anyway, the runaway success of Nars Orgasm, which debuted in 1999 and is still the best-selling blush in the U.S., led to more Orgasm-tone riffs from the brand beyond the original, like liquid blush and satin lipstick. Deanna Pai, Glamour, "Nars Has a New Orgasm Lip Balm—and Oh, It's Good," 16 May 2018 What: The Little Theatre presents the local premiere of comedy writer riff on a petulant, bratty God deciding to rewrite the 10 Commandments. Theodore P. Mahne, NOLA.com, "Bryan Batt's divine performance key to comedy of 'Act of God' at Le Petit," 14 May 2018 Each of these shows is squarely directed at the people most horrified by America’s new political reality—and each has thus far mostly stepped back to riff on, rather than repurpose, those viewers’ horror. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "Can Protest Art Get Its Mojo Back?," 7 May 2018 That said, the Kate Somerville Cold Cream Moisturizing Cleanser + Makeup Remover is somewhat of a riff off the original. Sophie Wirt, Allure, "Kate Somerville Launches Cold Cream Moisturizing Cleanser + Makeup Remover, and Now I'm a Cold Cream Convert," 9 Apr. 2018 On top of all the riffs and Paternoster’s pipes, Screaming Females is known for putting on a fiery show. John Adamian, courant.com, "Punk Trio Screaming Females To Play Space Ballroom," 31 Mar. 2018 Sambora's contribution to Bon Jovi can't be overlooked, considering his songwriting, vocals and some of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history. Chuck Yarborough, cleveland.com, "Richie Sambora, Orianthi to perform on Celebration Day as Rock & Roll Hall of Fame launches Induction Week," 22 Mar. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

As the song broke down at the bridge, the performance became kaleidoscopic, with Trainor riffing the song's chorus effortlessly. Mackenzie Cummings-grady, Billboard, "Meghan Trainor Channels Sexy 1970s Disco Vibe With 'Let You Be Right' on 'The Late Show': Watch," 7 June 2018 At Sixteen, Lents became known for telling a story with his food, riffing on history and playing with a sense of place. Mark Kurlyandchik, Detroit Free Press, "Chef’s Table in downtown Detroit is our 2018 Restaurant of the Year," 16 Feb. 2018 And in fact, that's the very vine that Jake tried to riff off of. Brianna Wiest, Teen Vogue, "Jake Paul Ripped Off Chloe Woodard's Iconic "Who Is She" Vine," 7 June 2018 This collaboration with The Can Van riffed on Chris Farley’s iconic Saturday Night Live character Matt Foley and inspired a fan to climb into the water in a tweed coat. Benjy Egel, sacbee, "These 15 Sacramento-area beers have the cleverest names of any released in 2018," 12 July 2018 Sara Cohen, editor at Temple University Press, suggested Popkin create a book that riffed off that event. John Timpane, Philly.com, "Nathaniel Popkin is a Philly author with a rare double play - two new books at once," 11 July 2018 Dishes riff on classics, like a Scandi twist on carpaccio with dill and caraway or a very Midwestern-tasting crisp-skinned trout with aioli underneath. Bon Appetit, "Diner," 25 June 2018 Speaking of, Mezcal is the name of the signature restaurant by chef Alexis Palacios, serving modern Mexican food that riffs off ancestral culinary traditions. Kathryn Romeyn, The Hollywood Reporter, "Hollywood Gets New Los Cabos Getaway," 18 June 2018 To riff off what Jason Kehe was saying earlier in a Slack conversation, my dream scenario involves the two of them falling in love. Wired Staff, WIRED, "We Need to Talk About That Westworld Season 2 Finale," 25 June 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

18 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for riff

The first known use of riff was in 1935

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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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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for riff

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).


occurring twice a year or every two years

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