\ 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

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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 But the White House account became public a day before the Schiff riff. Calvin Woodward, Fortune, "The Perils of Parodying President Trump," 12 Dec. 2019 Eventually the riff is joined by a slow, stomping beat. Randall Roberts, chicagotribune.com, "Electronic producer Amon Tobin’s very productive and wildly surprising year," 5 Dec. 2019 Jump in the mosh pit to get covered in fake blood, stay for the head-banging riffs. BostonGlobe.com, "‘Disney’s The Lion King’," 3 Oct. 2019 These two songs are very similar, from chord progressions to the cascading keyboard fills, the almost identical bass riff and the squiggly disco guitar. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Review: Adam Lambert smooth as ‘Velvet,’ rough as rock on EP," 26 Sep. 2019 White and his fellow frontman and guitarist Brendan Benson teased out the opening guitar lines, injecting the melody with more rattle and moan, before the riff finally kicked into gear. Piet Levy, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "The Raconteurs with Jack White rock Milwaukee for the first time at sold-out Eagles Ballroom show," 15 July 2019 The thriller scripted series—a true-crime riff on Succession that grapples with #MeToo-era issues of accountability and consequence—finds her playing Eleonore Richland, the daughter of a world-renowned cardiologist. Isaac Feldberg, Fortune, "Gillian Jacobs Crosses ‘Succession’ With #MeToo in True-Crime Podcast ‘Blood Ties’," 19 Dec. 2019 The artist Allan Kaprow was organizing Happenings, a loose term for absurd performances that could range from women licking jam off a car to riffs on vaudeville theater. Jillian Steinhauer, The New Republic, "The Art of the Unspeakable," 15 Oct. 2019 The Merc’s Jon Wilner riffs on the Pac-12′s November meeting, the conference’s playoff chances and more in his Hotline Newsletter. oregonlive, "Saturday’s game between the OSU Beavers and Wazzu has its own kind of drama: Issues & Answers," 19 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb This riff off a nonalcoholic chaser becomes a nice little cocktail in its own right. Kari Sonde, Washington Post, "10 autumnal cocktail recipes for a cozy night-in or holiday cheer," 3 Oct. 2019 Bloomberg News's Ellen Huet: Yahoo Finance's Sam Ro riffed on a popular meme: There were a lot of hair jokes to be made. Cat Zakrzewski, Washington Post, "The Technology 202: Reddit posters keep surfacing the name of the alleged whistleblower," 12 Nov. 2019 This quirky fascination, though, just may be the perfect symbol for their unique manner of riffing on stuffy tradition in unexpected ways. Hadley Keller, House Beautiful, "Fettle Design Has a Knack for Creating Hip Hotels and Restaurants," 31 July 2019 Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff—are some of the most stylish guys in the game right now, and riff heavily on Jackson's style for their big performances. Megan Gustashaw, GQ, "Harry Styles Is Dressing Like Michael Jackson Now," 13 Apr. 2018 Huss, who designed the original can with a bartender at Papago, says the round, purple logo is intended to riff off the Route 66 sign — but with Southwest and art deco inspiration. Tirion Morris, azcentral, "Everything you need to know about Papago Orange Blossom, one of Arizona's favorite beers," 21 Nov. 2019 The show kicked off with a powerful medley of prominent female country stars and launched into the opening monologue where hosts Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, and Dolly Parton riffed off each other. Erin Cavoto, Country Living, "Twitter Is Divided Over the Colorful CMA Jokes About Dolly Parton's 'Rack'," 14 Nov. 2019 The Athletic’s Tyson Alger riffs about winning without style points, the UO receivers, quarterback Herbert, running back CJ Verdell, the defense and the officials in this second-day look at Oregon’s win over Wazzu. oregonlive, "Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers face unknowns in road games this week: Issues & Answers," 28 Oct. 2019 Fans have been shipping Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in the main Skywalker Saga — something those two actors have riffed on at Star Wars fan events — but that doesn’t seem to be a reality. Nick Romano, EW.com, "Star Wars Resistance confirms Orka and Flix as openly gay couple," 30 Sep. 2019

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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Statistics for riff

Last Updated

9 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Riff.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/riff. Accessed 17 January 2020.

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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

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with riff

Comments on riff

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a plan in which a last survivor takes all

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