\ 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

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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 While some ceramists riff on vessels, others are pushing clay’s formal boundaries. Julie Belcove, Robb Report, 17 July 2021 Found at The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills, this riff on the Negroni uses tequila instead of gin. Aly Walansky, Forbes, 3 July 2021 More pointedly, gentrification is among the themes of Wesley Clark, whose large paintings on wooden panels riff on both maps and games. Washington Post, 2 July 2021 The song is anchored by big bass and drum hits, topped by a light synth riff that gives the song a sly edge. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 4 June 2021 Carignan is also plentiful in Mendocino County, making their Carignan-Syrah-Grenache blend a distinctly Californian riff on the French recipe. Esther Mobley, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 May 2021 That riff becomes acoustic strums in the verses so that Rodrigo can charge up energy like an anime superhero between bouts in a battle. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 22 May 2021 Edwards was comparing a guitar riff from Brutal, the first track on Rodrigo's album Sour, with Costello's 1978 hit Pump It Up. Lianne Kolirin, CNN, 30 June 2021 Riding the stadiums of the riff-raff has made the game better, safer and more popular in much of Europe. Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, 8 June 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Hill House Home recently released their mermaid collection, complete with silk pillowcases, sheet sets, terry dresses that make for perfect poolside cover-ups, and feminine tank tops that riff off of the brand’s signature nap dress alike. Rachel Besser, Vogue, 20 July 2021 Since 2017, Jorgenson has been writing, producing and acting in satirical videos that often riff off the serious, hard-hitting headlines of the day. Washington Post, 30 Nov. 2020 This is most evident in places where the syntax or form change drastically as the authors riff on each other’s language. Elvia Wilk, The Atlantic, 28 Mar. 2021 The goal isn’t to copy these people, Hegarty says, but to completely internalize their sounds the way a jazz musician might memorize scales and intervals in order to riff freely. Meredith Blake Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 29 Apr. 2021 Think of the person at a party who shows up late and tries to riff on the inside joke with no context. Erik Huberman, Rolling Stone, 21 May 2021 In fact, people are finding new ways to riff off the traditional French tip by adding neon colours, hearts, and smiley-face nail art. Sarah Midkiff, refinery29.com, 30 Apr. 2021 In twice-weekly episodes, the hosts riff on the latest political news and offer anecdotes and insights from their own time in Washington. New York Times, 21 Apr. 2021 Emma’s function is merely to support Charlie and loosen up stuffy white people, and the lack of anything authentic for Haddish to riff on is palpable. Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times, 5 May 2021

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



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Statistics for riff

Last Updated

30 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Riff.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/riff. Accessed 31 Jul. 2021.

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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
US, informal : a short set of comments on a particular subject


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