[ drift ]
See synonyms for: driftdrifteddriftingdriftless on Thesaurus.com

  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.

  1. Oceanography. a broad, shallow ocean current that advances at the rate of 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km) a day.

  2. Nautical.

    • the flow or the speed in knots of an ocean current.

    • the distance between the end of a rope and the part in use.

    • the distance between two blocks in a tackle.

    • 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.

  3. Aeronautics. the deviation of an aircraft from a set course due to cross winds.

  4. the course along which something moves; tendency; aim: The drift of political events after the war was toward chaos.

  5. meaning; intent; purport: the drift of a statement.

  6. something driven, as animals, rain, etc.

  7. a heap of any matter driven together.

  8. Geology. glacial drift.

  9. the state or process of being driven.

  10. overbearing power or influence.

  11. Military. a tool used in charging an ordnance piece.

  12. Electronics.

    • 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.

    • the movement of charge carriers in a semiconductor due to the influence of an applied voltage.

  13. Linguistics. gradual change in the structure of a language.

  14. Machinery.

    • 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.

    • a flat, tapered piece of steel used to drive tools with tapered shanks, as drill bits, from their holders.

  15. Civil Engineering. a secondary tunnel between two main tunnels or shafts.

  16. Mining. an approximately horizontal passageway in underground mining.

  17. Physics. the movement of charged particles under the influence of an electric field.

  18. Aerospace. the gradual deviation of a rocket or guided missile from its intended trajectory.

  19. Mechanics. displacement of the gimbals of a gyroscope due to friction on bearings, unbalance of the gyroscope's mass or other imperfections.

  20. the thrust of an arched structure.

  21. Dentistry. a shift of the teeth from their normal position in the dental arch.

  22. 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.

  1. to be driven into heaps, as by the wind: drifting sand.

  2. 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.

  1. Machinery.

    • to enlarge (a punched or drilled hole) with a drift.

    • to align or straighten (holes, especially rivet holes) with a drift.

Verb Phrases
  1. drift off, to fall asleep gradually.

Origin of drift

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”

synonym study For drift

7. See tendency.

Other words for drift

Other words from drift

  • drift·ing·ly, adverb
  • driftless, adjective
  • drift·less·ness, noun
  • un·drift·ing, adjective

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use drift in a sentence

  • It was a grand sight to witness the sea in a hurricane on a driftless, clear day.

    The Home of the Blizzard | Douglas Mawson
  • "Two driftless spirits on the driftless sea of eternity," he replied calmly.

    Under the Witches' Moon | Nathan Gallizier

British Dictionary definitions for drift


/ (drɪft) /

verb(mainly intr)
  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

  1. to wander or move gradually away from a fixed course or point; stray

  2. (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

  1. a state of indecision or inaction

  2. the extent to which a vessel, aircraft, projectile, etc is driven off its course by adverse winds, tide, or current

  3. a general tendency of surface ocean water to flow in the direction of the prevailing winds: North Atlantic Drift

  4. a driving movement, force, or influence; impulse

  5. a controlled four-wheel skid, used by racing drivers to take bends at high speed

  6. a loose unstratified deposit of sand, gravel, etc, esp one transported and deposited by a glacier or ice sheet

  7. a horizontal passage in a mine that follows the mineral vein

  8. something, esp a group of animals, driven along by human or natural agencies: a drift of cattle

  9. Also called: driftpin a tapering steel tool driven into holes to enlarge or align them before bolting or riveting

  10. an uncontrolled slow change in some operating characteristic of a piece of equipment, esp an electronic circuit or component

  11. 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

  12. Southern African a ford

  13. engineering a copper or brass bar used as a punch

Origin of drift

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

Derived forms of drift

  • drifty, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with drift


see get the drift.

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