\ 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 Yet there was something wonderfully endearing about his exaggerated melancholy, which often veered into unrepeatably obscene riffs. Eric Randolph, The New York Review of Books, "The Bleak Humor of Tehran’s One and Only Standup Comic," 10 Feb. 2020 Still, Collins—evidently pleased with Turley’s testimony—picked up on Turley’s originalism riff and took it further. Ephrat Livni, Quartz, "Republicans abandon constitutional originalism at impeachment hearing," 4 Dec. 2019 Even at 86, Nelson was up to the task, with riffs and solos that felt both familiar and strange, befitting a guy who has for decades gone his own peculiar way. Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle, "Willie Nelson's Sugar Land show proves he's still going his own peculiar way," 19 Nov. 2019 Trump told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday morning, in a characteristically low-syllable riff. Adam Weinstein, The New Republic, "Surveillance States Are Flexing Their Muscle," 22 Jan. 2020 Though the string-heavy composition on YouTube matches the art film’s cadence perfectly, the track sounds vastly different on streaming platforms, where a pounding beat and synth-y guitar riffs replace the sinuous violins. Sara Delgado, Teen Vogue, "BTS Releases Powerful "Black Swan" Song and Art Film as First MOTS: 7 Single," 17 Jan. 2020 Evans strung some serpentine riffs over the tune’s unconventional time signature. Dan Emerson, Twin Cities, "Bad Plus brings holiday cheer to the Dakota — along with a new album," 26 Dec. 2019 In Shakespeare's Henry V plays, Prince Hal does just that—ditching the demi-mondes of taverns and riff-raff to become a respected king. Jeff John Roberts, Fortune, "Crypto’s Crown Prince Survived ‘The Craziest Bubble Ever.’ Now He’s Ready For a Second Act," 11 Dec. 2019 They may be challenged, though, by some of Aciman’s other riffs on the subject. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "The Call Me by Your Name Dream Continues," 4 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Bernie Sanders was standing on stage at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Saturday night in front of 3,000 cheering supporters waving blue and white signs as Vampire Weekend began riffing behind him. Time, "How the Democratic Party Missed the Power of Bernie Sanders—Again," 3 Feb. 2020 So people who read the official account knew Schiff was riffing from it, not quoting from it. Calvin Woodward, Fortune, "Fact Checking Trump’s Recent Claims on Iran, Jobs, and the Environment," 13 Jan. 2020 To hear Crenshaw, trombonist Vincent Gardner and saxophonist Camille Thurman singing and riffing in response to one another was to recognize anew these musicians’ inherent creativity. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, "Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra review: Wynton Marsalis and friends take on ‘Jazz Ambassadors’," 16 Nov. 2019 Late With Lilly Singh, which premiered in September, gives Singh an even bigger platform to riff on hot topics, all while making us laugh. Megan Ditrolio, Bobbie Gossage, Marie Claire, "Marie Claire's 7th Annual New Guard," 17 Oct. 2019 Perhaps Iger will offer Scorsese a chance to produce a gritty Thanos origin story that riffs on one of his classic films? Tyler Aquilina, EW.com, "Disney CEO Bob Iger seeking to meet with Martin Scorsese after Marvel criticisms," 12 Dec. 2019 Seinfeld’, when there was a whole episode riffing on the how low-flow showerheads had horrible water pressure. Nicole Spector, NBC News, "12 practical ways to make your bathroom eco-friendlier — and save some money, too," 2 Oct. 2019 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

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

20 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Riff.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/riff. Accessed 28 Feb. 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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