View synonyms for drift


[ drift ]


  1. a driving movement or force; impulse; impetus; pressure.
  2. Navigation. (of a ship) the component of the movement that is due to the force of wind and currents.
  3. Oceanography. a broad, shallow ocean current that advances at the rate of 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km) a day.
  4. Nautical.
    1. the flow or the speed in knots of an ocean current.
    2. the distance between the end of a rope and the part in use.
    3. the distance between two blocks in a tackle.
    4. the difference in diameter between two parts, one of which fits within the other, as a mast and its mast hoops, or a treenail and its hole.
  5. Aeronautics. the deviation of an aircraft from a set course due to cross winds.
  6. the course along which something moves; tendency; aim:

    The drift of political events after the war was toward chaos.

  7. the drift of a statement.

    Synonyms: tenor

  8. something driven, as animals, rain, etc.
  9. a heap of any matter driven together.
  10. Geology. glacial drift.
  11. the state or process of being driven.
  12. overbearing power or influence.
  13. Military. a tool used in charging an ordnance piece.
  14. Electronics.
    1. a gradual change in some operating characteristic of a circuit, tube, or other electronic device, either during a brief period as an effect of warming up or during a long period as an effect of continued use.
    2. the movement of charge carriers in a semiconductor due to the influence of an applied voltage.
  15. Linguistics. gradual change in the structure of a language.
  16. Machinery.
    1. Also called driftpin. a round, tapering piece of steel for enlarging holes in metal, or for bringing holes in line to receive rivets or bolts.
    2. a flat, tapered piece of steel used to drive tools with tapered shanks, as drill bits, from their holders.
  17. Civil Engineering. a secondary tunnel between two main tunnels or shafts.
  18. Mining. an approximately horizontal passageway in underground mining.
  19. Physics. the movement of charged particles under the influence of an electric field.
  20. Aerospace. the gradual deviation of a rocket or guided missile from its intended trajectory.
  21. Mechanics. displacement of the gimbals of a gyroscope due to friction on bearings, unbalance of the gyroscope's mass or other imperfections.
  22. the thrust of an arched structure.
  23. Dentistry. a shift of the teeth from their normal position in the dental arch.
  24. Western U.S. a flock of animals or birds.

verb (used without object)

  1. to be carried along by currents of water or air, or by the force of circumstances.
  2. to wander aimlessly:

    He drifts from town to town.

  3. to be driven into heaps, as by the wind:

    drifting sand.

  4. to deviate or vary from a set course or adjustment.

verb (used with object)

  1. to carry along:

    The current drifted the boat to sea.

  2. to drive into heaps:

    The wind drifted the snow.

  3. Machinery.
    1. to enlarge (a punched or drilled hole) with a drift.
    2. to align or straighten (holes, especially rivet holes) with a drift.

verb phrase

  1. to fall asleep gradually.


/ drɪft /


  1. also tr to be carried along by or as if by currents of air or water or (of a current) to carry (a vessel, etc) along
  2. to move aimlessly from place to place or from one activity to another
  3. to wander or move gradually away from a fixed course or point; stray
  4. also tr (of snow, sand, etc) to accumulate in heaps or banks or to drive (snow, sand, etc) into heaps or banks


  1. something piled up by the wind or current, such as a snowdrift
  2. tendency, trend, meaning, or purport

    the drift of the argument

  3. a state of indecision or inaction
  4. the extent to which a vessel, aircraft, projectile, etc is driven off its course by adverse winds, tide, or current
  5. a general tendency of surface ocean water to flow in the direction of the prevailing winds

    North Atlantic Drift

  6. a driving movement, force, or influence; impulse
  7. a controlled four-wheel skid, used by racing drivers to take bends at high speed
  8. a loose unstratified deposit of sand, gravel, etc, esp one transported and deposited by a glacier or ice sheet
  9. a horizontal passage in a mine that follows the mineral vein
  10. something, esp a group of animals, driven along by human or natural agencies

    a drift of cattle

  11. Also calleddriftpin a tapering steel tool driven into holes to enlarge or align them before bolting or riveting
  12. an uncontrolled slow change in some operating characteristic of a piece of equipment, esp an electronic circuit or component
  13. linguistics gradual change in a language, esp in so far as this is influenced by the internal structure of the language rather than by contact with other languages
  14. a ford
  15. engineering a copper or brass bar used as a punch

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Derived Forms

  • ˈdrifty, adjective

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Other Words From

  • drifting·ly adverb
  • driftless adjective
  • driftless·ness noun
  • un·drifting adjective

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Word History and Origins

Origin of drift1

First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English drift, noun derivative of the Old English verb drīfan drive; cognate with Dutch drift “herd, flock,” German Trift “herd, pasturage, road to pasture”

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Word History and Origins

Origin of drift1

C13: from Old Norse: snowdrift; related to Old High German trift pasturage

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Idioms and Phrases

see get the drift .

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Synonym Study

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Example Sentences

In this view, play is to creativity what genetic drift is to evolution and what heat is to self-assembling molecules.

The random rise or fall of gene variants in a population is known as genetic drift.

A handmade soap booth sent drifts of lavender into the unseasonably warm air.

To make matters worse, ankle monitors are prone to technical glitches such as signal loss and drift, prohibitively short battery life, and inaccurate alerts sent to monitoring agencies.

Conditions in Oregon are unprecedented, with fire and smoke drift threatening every wine-producing region in the state, according to the Oregon Wine Board.

From Fortune

Is he the type of character who would ever join the group permanently, or is he more of a drift-in, drift-out kind of guy?

After years of strategic drift, the U.S. military may finally have a path to maintain its edge over countries like China.

Things can drift over time and you can find yourself very far away from shore when you thought you were quite close to the beach.

The mother continues to row frantically, but the boat begins to drift slowly downstream.

Everyone will laugh, the word “nerd” will be used affectionately, and the conversation will drift on.

They stopped, leaning over a jagged fence made of sea-drift, to ask for water.

Quite a number of sandeaters, as time passed, seemed to drift in and out of the back room.

For all that Marius had no Italian he understood the drift of the words, assisted as they were by the man's expressive gesture.

And they will jump into the air from the verge of high banks, and land on the drift at the bottom with perfect balance.

Their effect is, however, probably small as compared with that massive drift which we have now to note.


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More About Drift

What does drift mean?

To drift is to be carried along by water or air currents, the way a rubber duck might drift around in a tub.

To drift is also to carry something along, as an air current drifts dead leaves through the air.

This force of motion is also called a drift, as in The ocean drift carried my boogie board out to sea!

Related to this, drift can also mean to wander aimlessly. This sense can be used literally, as when you walk around a theme park with no specific destination in mind. It can also be used figuratively, as when you’re telling a friend a story about your cat and you drift into an unrelated story about your favorite video game. When we’re falling asleep slowly, we sometimes say we’re drifting off to sleep.

Drift can also refer to a purpose or meaning. As your science teacher explains a new concept, you might understand a little of it, getting the drift of it, but not yet understand all of what they’re talking about.

Example: We saw an empty raft drifting down the river.

Where does drift come from?

The first records of the term drift come from the late 1200s. It ultimately comes from the Old English drīfan meaning “to drive.” Drift might be called “a driving force” because it moves things forward.

Drift is closely related to nautical travel and the waters. In boat travel, for example, drift refers to the movement of a ship, its speed, the distance of a rope, the distance of cargo, and measurements of the ship itself. This is because the currents of the water and the wind cause things to float and drift along the water.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to drift?

  • drifter (noun)
  • driftingly (adverb)
  • driftless (adjective)
  • undrifting (adjective)

What are some synonyms for drift?

What are some words that share a root or word element with drift

What are some words that often get used in discussing drift?

How is drift used in real life?

Drift is a common word with many senses, all of which relate to something moving slowly or gently.

Try using drift!

Which of the following is NOT a synonym for drift?

A. float
B. halt
C. wander
D. flit

Definitions and idiom definitions from Unabridged, based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

Idioms from The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.