See more synonyms for reef on
verb (used with object)
  1. to shorten (sail) by tying in one or more reefs.
  2. to reduce the length of (a topmast, a bowsprit, etc.), as by lowering, sliding inboard, or the like.
  3. to pull (old oakum) out of seams, as with a rave hook (often followed by out).

Origin of reef

1350–1400; Middle English refe (noun) < Dutch reef
Related formsun·reefed, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for reefed

Historical Examples of reefed

  • Sails were furled, others were reefed, and all was made fairly snug.

    The Last Voyage

    Lady (Annie Allnutt) Brassey

  • He was reefed close and was making for the inlet, up Bay End way.

    Janet of the Dunes

    Harriet T. Comstock

  • The sails were not reefed, for it was not known when they might be required.

    Frank Merriwell's Cruise

    Burt L. Standish

  • Perfectly cool, he stood waiting till the sails were reefed.

    The Three Midshipmen

    W.H.G. Kingston

  • We had been under lower-topsails and a reefed foresail all night.

British Dictionary definitions for reefed


  1. a ridge of rock, sand, coral, etc, the top of which lies close to the surface of the sea
  2. a ridge- or mound-like structure built by sedentary calcareous organisms (esp corals) and consisting mainly of their remains
  3. a vein of ore, esp one of gold-bearing quartz

Word Origin for reef

C16: from Middle Dutch ref, from Old Norse rif rib 1, reef ²


  1. the part gathered in when sail area is reduced, as in a high wind
  1. to reduce the area of (sail) by taking in a reef
  2. (tr) to shorten or bring inboard (a spar)

Word Origin for reef

C14: from Middle Dutch rif; related to Old Norse rif reef, rib 1, German reffen to reef; see reef 1


noun the Reef
  1. another name for the Great Barrier Reef
  2. another name for the Witwatersrand
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

Word Origin and History for reefed



1660s, "take in, roll up" (as a sail on a ship), from reef (n.2). Related: Reefed; reefing.



"rock ridge underwater," 1580s, riffe, probably via Dutch riffe, from a Scandinavian source, cf. Old Norse rif "ridge in the sea; reef in a sail," literally "rib" (see rib (n.)).



"horizontal section of sail," late 14c. (mid-14c. in rif-rope), from a Scandinavian source, cf. Old Norse rif "reef of a sail," probably a transferred use of rif "ridge under the sea; rib" (see rib (n.) and cf. reef (n.1)). German reff, Swedish ref, Norwegian riv, Danish reb likely all are from the Old Norse word.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

reefed in Science


  1. A strip or ridge of rocks, sand, or coral that rises to or near the surface of a body of water. See more at coral reef.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.