\ 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
riffed; riffing; riffs

Definition of riff (Entry 2 of 3)

intransitive verb

: to perform, deliver, or make use of a riff
riffed; riffing; riffs

Definition of riff (Entry 3 of 3)

: riffle, skim riff pages

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for riff

Synonyms: Noun

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 Portland has already designated dollars formerly budgeted for police to expand a yet-to-launch pilot program of Portland Street Response, a local riff on Cahoots. oregonlive, "Eugene’s alternative to policing, Cahoots, would go national under bill to provide Medicaid funding for similar programs nationwide," 5 Aug. 2020 From the photo, the pizza appears to be a riff on beef pho, topped with cooked slices of fatty beef, meatballs, basil and white onion slivers. Soleil Ho, SFChronicle.com, "Pho on my pizza? It's more likely than you think," 3 Aug. 2020 The longtime friends riff at breakneck speed on subjects both broad and niche. Emma Dibdin New York Times, Star Tribune, "Podcasts offer comedy fans laughs with Hollywood on hiatus," 2 Aug. 2020 Best with: cinnamon, banana, rum-raisin, chocolate and strawberry ice creams. — Mocha sunflower seeds: This is a riff on the Mocha Pepitas from Taste of Home. cleveland, "Ice cream toppings to help you chill out this summer," 13 July 2020 The cachaça in this daiquiri riff adds a subtle, grassy note, cutting the richness of the pineapple rum. M. Carrie Allan, Washington Post, "Refreshing cocktails to carry us through a summer like no other," 8 July 2020 In their most recent podcast, the House of Run guys wonder what to do about Christian Coleman and riff on the recent virtual dual meet between Oregon Track Club Elite and Atlanta Track Club. oregonlive, "This year’s Pre Classic goes away, but there still could be live track this summer: Oregon track & field rundown," 26 June 2020 In an extended riff, more than an hour into the speech, Trump depicted life in Gulag America if Joe Biden becomes president. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, "Trump Is Terrorizing America," 21 June 2020 Ninio's extinction illusion is a riff on the Hermann grid, a classic piece of visual trickery in which your eyes see illusory gray blobs at the intersections of a black-and-white lattice. Nicole Wetsman, Popular Science, "Your brain won’t let you see all 12 dots in this image," 14 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The Athletic’s Andy Staples riffs about what an eight-team playoff might look like this year. oregonlive, "Major college football’s big issue, and Paul Finebaum’s dismissive take on Utah: Issues & Answers," 5 Dec. 2019 Newscasters should never riff on race while reading the day’s headlines, let alone play games on the subject. Shirley Li, The Atlantic, "The Genius of That SNL Sketch on Race," 7 Oct. 2019 Where there were once three restaurants there is now one, riffing on mid-century glamour with a ramped-up, sustainably minded menu devised by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "The Best New Hotels in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America: 2020 Hot List," 5 May 2020 The internet is full of good-natured memes riffing on his efforts to not only reassure people, but also admonish those who aren't taking the coronavirus seriously enough. Morgan Watkins, The Courier-Journal, "Gov. Beshear has been in office for 3 months. Handling a pandemic wasn't on the calendar," 25 Mar. 2020 Did any of the scenes come out of the two of you riffing together in the studio? Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com, "Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph live up to Sugar & Booze names in festive Audible series preview," 5 Dec. 2019 In recent years, the president has used CPAC to riff on his favorite topics before a friendly crowd. Grace Segers, CBS News, "Trump rails against rivals at conservative conference CPAC," 29 Feb. 2020 During the conversation, Ma and Musk riffed off of a number of topics related to AI, including work hours, education, life expectancy, and migrating to Mars. Echo Huang, Quartz, "Jack Ma and Elon Musk are pretty worried about a looming population collapse," 29 Aug. 2019 They were born in Miami and grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., and figured out how to play the guitar as a teenager by riffing on Nirvana and Green Day songs. Alex Frank, New York Times, "Yves Tumor Redefines Rock Stardom, Body on the Line," 7 Apr. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about riff

Statistics for riff

Last Updated

10 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Riff.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/riff. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for riff


How to pronounce riff (audio)

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

More from Merriam-Webster on riff

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for riff

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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).


Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt painting a young scholar and his tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!