\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

According to a Bloomberg report, Samsung is eyeing a new slate of flagship handsets next year that won’t just be a riff on the Galaxy S9 that was introduced earlier this year. Michael Simon, PCWorld, "Samsung may be plotting a Galaxy S10 blitz with 5G, folding screens...and no headphone jack," 26 Oct. 2018 The ad is a riff on countless online videos and photos portraying an over-protective father warning a young man interested in dating his daughter. Brooke Singman, Fox News, "Georgia candidate Kemp triggers uproar with shotgun ad," 2 Oct. 2018 Called Sugar Zeffers, the new style is basically a riff on a classic flip-flop. Halie Lesavage, Glamour, "Allbirds Is Launching—Wait for It—Flip-Flops," 1 Aug. 2018 But Never Stop Sneakin’ isn’t a direct riff on Konami’s once-flagship series. Steven Strom, Ars Technica, "Never Stop Sneakin’ is a brilliant send-up of ’90s stealth games," 12 July 2018 Trump's detailed play-by-play was part of an extended, mostly off-the-cuff riff that touched on everything from North Korea and Iran to the GOP's midterm electoral prospects and his wife Melania Trump's positive approval rating, the sources said. Eli Watkins, CNN, "Trump retells story of UCLA basketball players arrested in China," 15 May 2018 The worst sketch of the evening, the cold open, was a creaky riff on the film Meet the Parents with Ben Stiller playing Trump attorney Michael Cohen and Robert De Niro playing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Consider the 'Diner Lobster'," 17 Apr. 2018 This year, the flavor is a riff off the flavors of Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries cereal. Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press, "Free small Slurpees today honor 7-Eleven’s birthday," 10 July 2018 There doesn’t appear to be any hope for a bump from our current Commander in Chief, whose name is a riff on Donna. Donna Vickroy, Daily Southtown, "Destined to be dowdy forever? The difficulty of being named 'Donna' in 2018," 7 July 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

13 Nov 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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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).


playful or foolish behavior

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