\ 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

interpretation, take, variation

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Examples of riff in a Sentence


He stole that riff from another song. a mock news program with humorous riffs on current events

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

This iteration will feature VOLTA Football, a series-first mode that offers a riff on the classic 11 vs. 11 gameplay in order to focus on smaller street games with fewer players. Brittany Vincent, CNN Underscored, "FIFA 20 is headed to the field on Sept. 27; you can preorder it right now," 4 Sep. 2019 For the speakeasy at the tournament, Meehan created a cocktail called the Centurionside, a riff on the Southside that American Express spokesperson Rachel Stocks says has already been a big hit. Sam Dangremond, Town & Country, "See Inside the Exclusive American Express Lounge at the US Open," 3 Sep. 2019 But her tinny outrage and Tyler’s own dogmatic logorrhea begin to feel like exhibits in a playfully prickly riff on the inauthentic, the massaged and the cagily appropriated when telling stories. Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times, "Review: ‘The Plagiarists’ is an adventurous comic thumping," 29 Aug. 2019 Watch the two future Simbas duet together in a riff sure to give you chills (starting at the 3:00 mark): McCrary got his acting career started on the Disney Channel series K.C. Undercover and starred on OWN’s The Paynes. Sydney Bucksbaum, EW.com, "Get to know the actors behind young Simba and Nala in Disney's live-action Lion King," 19 July 2019 Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott riffs on the possibility the Pac-12 will have 9 a.m. (Pacific) games to be televised on Fox beginning in 2020 while appearing on James Crepea’s radio show. oregonlive, "UO quarterback Justin Herbert’s childhood hero is former Oregon RB LaMichael James: Issues & Answers," 29 Aug. 2019 NBC News’ Dasha Burns unboxes the new riff on the old classic. Petra Cahill, NBC News, "Puerto Ricans brace for Dorian, a royal Brexit twist and SNL shakes up its cast: The Morning Rundown," 28 Aug. 2019 This nonalcoholic riff picks up many of the original drink’s notes, substituting rich, smoky lapsang souchong black tea for the Islay whisky in the original. M. Carrie Allan, The Denver Post, "No alcohol, no problem: How to make complex, balanced zero-proof cocktails," 23 Aug. 2019 In 2012, Danny sold Albee and a friend on the idea of opening the Cajun Cua (cua is crab in Vietnamese), a riff on Viet-Cajun restaurants like the Boiling Crab. Andrea Nguyen, Los Angeles Times, "From the motherland to the U.S., a Vietnamese fish sauce with umami oomph," 21 Aug. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

If the Grateful Dead pioneered rock ‘n’ roll noodling — that is, riffing and improvising and casually jamming as if every show was a weeklong musical marathon — then the Dave Matthews Band has taken it to a whole new level. David L. Coddon, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Arts & Culture Newsletter: Dave Matthews Band and KAABOO stir up memories of Street Scene," 9 Sep. 2019 That’s all RiffTrax needed to zero in on this film for its live-riffing series. Susan Dunne, courant.com, "RiffTrax does ‘Giant Spider Invasion’ in area theaters," 9 Aug. 2019 Chefs are designing their dishes around the ingredients of the island, playfully creating odes to their favorite flavors and textures, borrowing from iconic culinary ideas worldwide, and even riffing on Hawaii’s casual staples in high-end settings. Naomi Tomky, Fortune, "Honolulu’s Hottest Restaurants Take Hawaiian Paradise Beyond the Beach," 4 Aug. 2019 As horns riffing on a folk tune came in behind him and the drums picked up, Stasiuk switched languages, half shouting, half rapping the same verses in Ukrainian. Ruth Franklin, The New Yorker, "Olga Tokarczuk’s Novels Against Nationalism," 29 July 2019 Is Sam Neil riffing off Event Horizon, Jurassic Park, or neither? James Hibberd, EW.com, "Rick and Morty creators give first season 4 interview," 17 July 2019 His specialty was making the kind of viral videos that riffed on pop culture and were relentlessly pumped out on social media by the Trump campaign. Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times, "Trump Consultant Is Trolling Democrats With Biden Site That Isn’t Biden’s," 29 June 2019 The musical stars of the cast aren't too shabby, either: Glover riffs playfully in songs and balances his usual cool with gravitas, and Beyonce brings all the necessary fire as Nala, a lion willing to do anything to protect her pride. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "Review: Disney's new 'Lion King' revamp razzles and dazzles but feels all too familiar," 10 Apr. 2019 The Internet memes riffing on all these on-stage moments. Christian Allaire, Vogue, "The Best Memes From the 2019 VMAs," 27 Aug. 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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Dictionary Entries near riff



rife with




riffle file

Statistics for riff

Last Updated

18 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for riff

The first known use of riff was in 1935

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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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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).


concealment of treason or felony

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