\ ˈdrift How to pronounce drift (audio) \
plural drifts

Definition of drift

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the act of driving something along
b : the flow or the velocity of the current of a river or ocean stream
2 : something driven, propelled, or urged along or drawn together in a clump by or as if by a natural agency: such as
a : wind-driven snow, rain, cloud, dust, or smoke usually at or near the ground surface
b(1) : a mass of matter (such as sand) deposited together by or as if by wind or water
(2) : a helter-skelter accumulation
c : drove, flock
d : something (such as driftwood) washed ashore
e : rock debris deposited by natural agents specifically : a deposit of clay, sand, gravel, and boulders transported by a glacier or by running water from a glacier
3a : a general underlying design or tendency perceiving the drift of the government's policies
b : the underlying meaning, import, or purport of what is spoken or written the drift of a conversation
4 : something (such as a tool) driven down upon or forced into a body
5 : the motion or action of drifting especially spatially and usually under external influence: such as
a : the lateral motion of an aircraft due to air currents
b : an easy moderate more or less steady flow or sweep along a spatial course
c : a gradual shift in attitude, opinion, or position
d : an aimless course especially : a forgoing of any attempt at direction or control
e : a deviation from a true reproduction, representation, or reading especially : a gradual change in the zero reading of an instrument or in any quantitative characteristic that is supposed to remain constant
f : a deliberate, controlled skid by a vehicle turning through a corner at high speed : an instance of automotive drifting Backing off the throttle on corner entries induces a soupçon of oversteer, just enough to allow a little sliding at the apex in an easily controlled four-wheel drift, that most delightful of sports-car experiences—when it doesn't hurl one off a cliff.— Tony Swan

called also powerslide

6a : a nearly horizontal mine passageway driven on or parallel to the course of a vein or rock stratum
b : a small crosscut in a mine connecting two larger tunnels
7a : an assumed trend toward a general change in the structure of a language over a period of time
8 : a grouping of similar flowers planted in an elongated mass


drifted; drifting; drifts

Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1a : to become driven or carried along (as by a current of water, wind, or air) a balloon drifting in the wind
b : to move or float smoothly and effortlessly
2a : to move along a line of least resistance
b : to move in a random or casual way
c : to become carried along subject to no guidance or control the talk drifted from topic to topic
3a : to accumulate in a mass or become piled up in heaps by wind or water drifting snow
b : to become covered with a drift
4 : to vary or deviate from a set course or adjustment

transitive verb

1a : to cause to be driven in a current
b Western US : to drive (livestock) slowly especially to allow grazing
2a : to pile in heaps
b : to cover with drifts

Other Words from drift


drifty \ ˈdrif-​tē How to pronounce drift (audio) \ adjective


driftingly \ ˈdrif-​tiŋ-​lē How to pronounce drift (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for drift

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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Choose the Right Synonym for drift


tendency, trend, drift, tenor, current mean movement in a particular direction. tendency implies an inclination sometimes amounting to an impelling force. a general tendency toward inflation trend applies to the general direction maintained by a winding or irregular course. the long-term trend of the stock market is upward drift may apply to a tendency determined by external forces the drift of the population away from large cities or it may apply to an underlying or obscure trend of meaning or discourse. got the drift of her argument tenor stresses a clearly perceptible direction and a continuous, undeviating course. the tenor of the times current implies a clearly defined but not necessarily unalterable course. an encounter that changed the current of my life

Examples of drift in a Sentence

Noun the slow drift of the clouds As she got older, you could observe a drift in her writing towards more serious subjects. the government's drift towards a centralization of power Verb The boat slowly drifted out to sea. The clouds drifted across the sky. The snow drifted against the side of the house. Drifting snow covered most of the car. The party guests drifted from room to room, eating and mingling. Her eyes drifted across the crowd. The conversation drifted from topic to topic. My thoughts drifted back to the time when we first met. After he left the army he just drifted for a few years. She drifted from job to job.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The most common challenge is engine failure, which crews counter by quickly dropping anchor to arrest the ship’s drift toward the banks. Washington Post, 9 Jan. 2022 While this might sound like a benefit, the lack of system control often allows too much configuration drift and makes processes hard to audit. Danny Allan, Forbes, 5 Jan. 2022 Sophisticated state failure is an unadmitted father of the Western world’s drift to populist politics. WSJ, 4 Jan. 2022 This local drift is not seen as a problem for the cosmological principle. Quanta Magazine, 13 Dec. 2021 Days start with phenomenal breakfasts at a communal table while the sounds of laughter shared over mezcal drift along the evening air. Kyle A. Valenta, Travel + Leisure, 9 Nov. 2021 Because the last year has been drift in terms of messaging. ABC News, 7 Nov. 2021 Lovers of cars and car culture will be ecstatic to race the desert sands and drift through the rainforests. Brittany Vincent, BGR, 4 Nov. 2021 Line mending, which is lifting the line off the water and flipping it upstream or downstream of the indicator to control drift or depth, was also restricted. Bill May, baltimoresun.com/maryland/carroll, 24 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb When the light turned green the man reportedly began to drift into her lane, prompting her to fire her gun, police said. Salma Reyes, The Arizona Republic, 6 Nov. 2021 And then, like a ship without a sail, the music began to drift out. Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone, 22 Sep. 2021 It's also got vanilla fruit extract and chamomile, which together work to help drift off into a peaceful sleep after your evening shower or bath. Kristi Kellogg, Glamour, 5 Aug. 2021 The pandemic could well drift or shift into something that defies our best efforts to model and characterize it. Siddhartha Mukherjee, The New Yorker, 22 Feb. 2021 As the investments change in value, however, the mix of investments may drift away from the original asset allocation. Mark Kantrowitz, Forbes, 14 Nov. 2021 Storm chances will drift east across the northern Gulf Coast Wednesday and into the Southeast on Friday. Washington Post, 26 Oct. 2021 More elevated smoke particles from the Schneider, Bull Complex and Middle Fork Complex fires could drift into the metro area overnight. oregonlive, 1 Sep. 2021 Crankbaits, swimbaits and jigging spoons do the job on the spots, while stripers are mostly a live bait proposition at this time of year—drift a live shad about 5 to 8 inches long down deep on the channel edges. Frank Sargeant, al, 23 July 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'drift.' 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 drift


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1600, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 3a

History and Etymology for drift


Middle English; akin to Old English drīfan to drive — more at drive

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Time Traveler for drift

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The first known use of drift was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

19 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Drift.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drift. Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for drift



English Language Learners Definition of drift

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a slow and gradual movement or change from one place, condition, etc., to another
: a large pile of snow or sand that has been blown by the wind
: the general or basic meaning of something said or written



English Language Learners Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

: to move slowly on water, wind, etc.
: to form a pile by being blown by the wind : to form a drift
: to move smoothly or easily in a way that is not planned or guided


\ ˈdrift How to pronounce drift (audio) \

Kids Definition of drift

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the slow movement of something carried by wind or water
2 : a pile of something that has been blown by the wind a drift of snow
3 : a course something appears to be taking the drift of the conversation
4 : the meaning of something said or implied I don't get your drift.


drifted; drifting

Kids Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to move slowly on wind or water
2 : to be piled up by wind or water drifting sand
3 : to move along or change without effort or purpose She drifts from job to job. He drifted in and out of sleep.

Other Words from drift

drifter noun


\ ˈdrift How to pronounce drift (audio) \

Medical Definition of drift

1 : movement of a tooth in the dental arch

Other Words from drift

drift intransitive verb

More from Merriam-Webster on drift

Nglish: Translation of drift for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of drift for Arabic Speakers


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