Definition of riff in English:


Syllabification: riff


  • 1(In popular music and jazz) a short repeated phrase, frequently played over changing chords or harmonies or used as a background to a solo improvisation: a brilliant guitar riff
    More example sentences
    • Catchy, jangly guitar riffs are slung about violently.
    • He manufactures catchy guitar riffs with ease, and blends them with off-beat lyrics.
    • They played the opening riff for a while, until Rocky tried a solo.
  • 1.1A monologue or spoken improvisation, especially a humorous one, on a particular subject: subsequent riffs on the same themes fail to amuse
    More example sentences
    • "Detective work," someone mutters to an eager graduate student in A. S. Byatt's latest fictional riff on things Victorian.
    • Her conversations are never completed, her ideas left unexplored, and her truths half spoken while Hatanaka indulges in another riff about the story.
    • A personification of the bomb appears near the end, portrayed by Sotor's cousin, in a satirical riff off an old cliché Sotor rewrote himself.


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  • 1Play musical riffs: the other horns would be riffing behind him
    More example sentences
    • Gone are the wacky keyboard lines, the chunky punk ‘n’ metal riffing and polka/ska passages that have made this band a Canadian legend.
    • Steve Wilson's vibes are deep in the rhythm section's pocket, riffing or firing off spare, hanging chords.
    • Often times, Simmons' band sounds remarkably like the traditional Coltrane quartet, with pianist John Hicks riffing off propulsive drummer, James Zitro.
  • 1.1Perform a monologue or spoken improvisation on a particular subject: he also riffs on racism and the economy
    More example sentences
    • Speaking of Chinese translations, Harper's Magazine, once published a list of Chinese books riffing on Johnson's earlier classic.
    • The issue's highlight, however, is an inspired fashion spread riffing on the 1998 Danish film, The Celebration.
    • Sullivan excels at punditry, happily riffing off the news or essaying exuberantly off the top of his head.


1930s: perhaps an abbreviation of refrain2.

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Word of the day coloratura
Pronunciation: ˌkɒlərəˈtjʊərə
elaborate ornamentation of a vocal melody