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: an ostinato phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation
also : a piece based on such a phrase
: a rapid energetic often improvised verbal outpouring
especially : one that is part of a comic performance
: a succinct usually witty comment
: a distinct variation : take
a disturbing … riff on the Cinderella storyDaria Donnelly


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verb (1)

riffed; riffing; riffs

intransitive verb

: to perform, deliver, or make use of a riff


3 of 3

verb (2)

riffed; riffing; riffs
: riffle, skim
riff pages

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
The original cocktail is a sweet Manhattan riff with a minty and herbal note, conveyed by the blend of bourbon, sweet vermouth and Fernet-Branca. Matt Ortile, Condé Nast Traveler, 8 Apr. 2024 The timepiece appears to be a custom riff on the sporty Vanguard model that was launched in 2014. Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 6 Apr. 2024 This is his go-to drink My go-to drink on our menu is the Boulevardier, my riff on a pre-Prohibition classic cocktail. Kristine M. Kierzek, Journal Sentinel, 5 Apr. 2024 The result is a riveting suite of pop operettas mixing R&B melodies with alt-rock riffs, voice-note recordings, phone-notification pings, and anxious ad libs, all stitched together in Gray’s sprawling self-productions. Madison Bloom, Pitchfork, 29 Mar. 2024 At the restaurant, named for Cottrell’s 35-pound orange-and-white cat, the team is channeling a playful vibe with riffs on barbecue inspired by Cottrell’s time cooking in New Orleans. Kate Kassin, Bon Appétit, 28 Mar. 2024 Her scenes with Buckley, in which the irresistible urge of Irish bonhomie butts up against the immovable object of passive-aggressive politeness and repression, are like watching musicians play off against each other’s weaving melodies and riffs. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 27 Mar. 2024 The 2:19 rocker has an uncharacteristic chant-y, gang vocal chorus, with the riffs originating with bassist Jeff Ament. Spin Staff, SPIN, 22 Mar. 2024 Get The Recipe 35 of 35 Herbed Buttermilk Ranch Dressing Master the main recipe for Herbed Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, then try one (or all) of the riffs for delicious flavors that will dazzle your greens. Southern Living Editors, Southern Living, 20 Mar. 2024
How to describe the experience of listening to him riff ? James Parker, The Atlantic, 5 Apr. 2024 The Look of Love, a new work by Mark Morris that riffs on Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s legendary song catalog, is currently enjoying a brief run at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music). Vogue, 21 Mar. 2024 Here, Dalio is riffing off Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s 2018 observation about the economy facing a slowdown and a more confrontational U.S. under then-President Donald Trump. William Pesek, Forbes, 29 Mar. 2024 But it also was motivated by a desire to meet our daily question quota, and riffing off the news of the day lessened the chances one of us would accidentally duplicate (or worse yet, give away the answer to) a question that already existed in the ever-growing database. Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times, 27 Mar. 2024 Engineers might be able to riff on this natural process to come up with a novel way of defogging eyeglasses, for instance. Sarah Kuta, Smithsonian Magazine, 12 Mar. 2024 With input from heavyweight producers like Max Martin (though Grande also did a lot of the producing herself), the singer playfully bounces through break-ups and failed romances while riffing on house music, R&B, and even jazz. Christian Allaire, Vogue, 8 Mar. 2024 The film is a passion project that riffs on different comedic genres — satire, physical and sketch — to create an absurdist adventure. Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Mar. 2024 She’s known for her preparation and precision, with an affinity for crowd work that translates well into riffing with the contestants on her show. Eliza Brooke, New York Times, 7 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'riff.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



probably by shortening & alteration from refrain

Verb (2)

short for riffle

First Known Use


1935, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb (1)

1948, in the meaning defined above

Verb (2)

1952, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of riff was in 1935

Dictionary Entries Near riff

Cite this Entry

“Riff.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/riff. Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.

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