verb (used with object)

verb (used without object)



    shift gears. gear(def 19).

Origin of shift

before 1000; (v.) Middle English shiften to arrange, Old English sciftan; cognate with German schichten to arrange in order, Old Norse skipta to divide; (noun) Middle English: contrivance, start, derivative of the v.
Related formsshift·ing·ly, adverbshift·ing·ness, nounin·ter·shift·ing, adjectivere·shift, verbtrans·shift, verbun·shift·ing, adjective
Can be confusedshift shrift

Synonyms for shift Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for shift

Contemporary Examples of shift

Historical Examples of shift

  • The ships did not get clear without some trouble, and we thought it wisest to shift our berth.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • These were denied us, and we were told to shift for ourselves.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • On my return to Philadelphia, I resolved to shift my ground, and try a new tack.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • I sung out, "there's breakers, and everybody must shift for himself."

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • Next door to where I board there's a dog that goes on shift as regular as a policeman.

    Good Indian

    B. M. Bower

British Dictionary definitions for shift



to move or cause to move from one place or position to another
(tr) to change for another or others
to change (gear) in a motor vehicle
(intr) (of a sound or set of sounds) to alter in a systematic way
(intr) to provide for one's needs (esp in the phrase shift for oneself)
(intr) to proceed by indirect or evasive methods
to remove or be removed, esp with difficultyno detergent can shift these stains
(intr) slang to move quickly
(tr) computing to move (bits held in a store location) to the left or right


the act or an instance of shifting
a group of workers who work for a specific period
the period of time worked by such a group
an expedient, contrivance, or artifice
the displacement of rocks, esp layers or seams in mining, at a geological fault
an underskirt or dress with little shaping
Derived Formsshifter, noun

Word Origin for shift

Old English sciftan; related to Old Norse skipta to divide, Middle Low German schiften, to separate
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 shift

Old English sciftan, scyftan "arrange, place, order," also "divide, partition; distribute, allot, share," from Proto-Germanic *skiftan (cf. Old Norse skipta "to divide, change, separate," Old Frisian skifta "to decide, determine, test," Dutch schiften "to divide, turn," German schichten "to classify," Schicht "shift"). This is said to be related to the source of Old English sceadan "divide, separate," (see shed (v.)).

c.1200 as "to dispose; make ready; set in order, control," also intransitive, "take care of oneself." From c.1300 as "to go, move, depart; move (someone or something), transport." Sense of "to alter, to change" appeared mid-13c. (cf. shiftless). Meaning "change the gear setting of an engine" is from 1910; to shift gears in the figurative sense is from 1961. Related: Shifted; shifting.


c.1300, "a movement, a beginning," from shift (v.). This is the word in to make shift "make efforts" (mid-15c.). Sense of "change, alteration" is from 1560s. Sense of "means to an end" is from 1520s; hence "an expedient." Meaning "mechanism for changing gear in a motor vehicle" is recorded from 1914. Typewriter shift key is from 1893; shift-lock is from 1899.

Meaning "period of working time" (originally in a mine) is attested from 1809, with older sense "relay of horses" (1708); perhaps with sense influenced by a North Sea Germanic cognate word (e.g. North Frisian skeft "division, stratum," skaft "one of successive parties of workmen"). Similar double senses of "division" and "relay of workers" exist in Swedish skift, German schicht.


"body garment, underclothing," 1590s, originally used alike of men's and women's pieces, probably from shift (n.1), which was commonly used in reference to a change of clothes. In 17c., it began to be used as a euphemism for smock, and was itself displaced, for similar reasons of delicacy, in 19c. by chemise.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

shift in Medicine




To move or transfer from one place or position to another.
To alter position or place.
To exchange one thing for another of the same type or class.


A change from one person or configuration to another; a substitution.
A change in position.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.