[ ref ]
/ rɛf /
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noun, verb (used with or without object), reffed, ref·fing.Sports Slang.
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Origin of ref

First recorded in 1895–1900; by shortening

Other definitions for ref (2 of 2)


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does ref mean?

Ref is an informal and shortened way of referring to a referee, an official in a sporting event who enforces the rules of the game.

In sports, refs do things like call fouls and stop play when there has been a violation of the rules. Basketball, football, and soccer are examples of sports that used this kind of ref.

The word referee is also sometimes used to refer to a person who acts as a formal authority or arbitrator in some kind of decision, such as a legal case. Sometimes, the word refers to a person who’s responsible for reviewing scientific or academic papers or grant proposals. Referee can also be used in a figurative way to refer to someone who has to enforce the rules in some situation, as in I spent the afternoon playing referee to several toddlers.

Ref can be used as a shortened form of referee in these contexts, but it’s much less common than its use in sports.

Sometimes, the word is used as an informal way of addressing a referee, as in “Hey, Ref, good call!” said no one ever.  

Like referee, ref can be used as a verb meaning to act as a referee, as in I signed up to ref my daughter’s soccer games. 

Example: I’ve never understood why players argue with refs—have you ever seen one reverse their call? 

Where does ref come from?

The first records of the word ref as a shortened form of referee come from the 1890s. Referee is a combination of the verb refer and the suffix -ee, which is used to form words from verbs to indicate a person who is the beneficiary of the verb. In this way, a referee is a person to whom a matter is referred, often in order to make a decision on it.

Refs are commonly associated with basketball, football, and soccer, but other sports have refs. In some sports, the referee is called an umpire, which is often shortened to the similarly informal ump.

Refs are supposed to be enforcers of the rules who do not favor either player or team. Being a ref is often seen as a thankless job since players and fans are known for arguing with their calls (which, yes, are sometimes terrible).

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What are some other forms related to ref?

  • referee (full, unabbreviated form)

What are some synonyms for ref?

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


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

How is ref used in real life?

Ref is most commonly used in the context of sports. It’s commonly used as both a noun and a verb.

Try using ref!

Is ref used correctly in the following sentence?

I hate having to act as a ref when my friends are in an argument—I wish they could just sort it out themselves.

How to use ref in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for ref (1 of 2)

/ (rɛf) /

informal short for referee

British Dictionary definitions for ref (2 of 2)


abbreviation for
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