Definition of drift in English:

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Pronunciation: /drɪft/


[no object]
1Be carried slowly by a current of air or water: the cabin cruiser started to drift downstream figurative excited voices drifted down the hall
More example sentences
  • During the mission, our unattended football rolled into the water and drifted downstream.
  • Aided by the swift current, we drifted quietly downstream watching the rich assortment of wildlife along the way.
  • One after another the tiny balls of bread fell, hit the water and drifted downstream.
be carried, be carried (away/along), be borne, be wafted;
float, bob, move slowly, go with the current, coast, meander
1.1 [with adverbial of direction] Walk slowly, aimlessly, or casually: people began to drift away
More example sentences
  • I felt pretty useless, and began to drift around aimlessly, asking if anyone needed help.
  • All week they didn't speak to each other while the others were about and they drifted off for walks on their own and Jed gave them plenty of opportunity to be together by leaving them behind a lot.
  • Voices rose in an unhappy mutter, but the crowd began to drift away, and the sergeant walked over.
1.2 [with adverbial] Move passively, aimlessly, or involuntarily into a certain situation or condition: I was drifting off to sleep
More example sentences
  • We have known each other for years but drifted apart when they moved out of our neighborhood.
  • Jamie had told him that often times patients in this condition would drift into a coma-like state.
  • As she sat with her hand cupping her chin, she wondered what was going to become of her and her father right before she drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
wander, wander aimlessly, roam, rove, meander, stray, coast;
potter, dawdle, dally
British informal mooch
doze off, drop off, fall asleep, go to sleep
informal nod off, go off, crash, crash out, flake out
1.3(Of a person or their attention) digress or stray to another subject: I noticed my audience’s attention drifting
More example sentences
  • After a while, the boys drifted from the subject of math and started talking about other things.
  • The latter is a typical song the band chooses to jam out live, but it was obvious much of the audience's attention was drifting after the first 10 minutes.
  • Why can't I hold your attention anymore, you're always drifting off on me.
stray, digress, depart, diverge, veer, swerve, deviate, get sidetracked
rare divagate
2(Especially of snow or leaves) be blown into heaps by the wind: fallen leaves start to drift in the gutters (as adjective drifting) long stretches of drifting snow
More example sentences
  • Up to five inches of snow, drifting in the gale-force winds, was being forecast overnight along the East Coast.
  • As the game kicked off, winter threatened to intervene as snow drifted across the ground but fortunately it remained light.
  • The snow had drifted on the ground, swelling up against trunks and rocks, and parchment thin beside the water.
pile up, bank up, heap up, accumulate, gather, form heaps/drifts, amass


1 [in singular] A continuous slow movement from one place to another: there was a drift to the towns
More example sentences
  • Contrasting the abruptness of earthquakes is the slow drift of tectonic plates.
  • Over the past 30 years it has been used to reflect laser pulses back to observatories on Earth, making it possible to monitor the slow drift of the Moon away from our planet.
  • The director's commentary explains that in the space scene, no cuts could be made without ruining the continuous drift of the backdrop.
movement, shift, flow, transfer, transferral, relocation, gravitation
1.1 [mass noun] The deviation of a vessel, aircraft, or projectile from its intended or expected course as the result of currents or winds: the pilot had not noticed any appreciable drift
More example sentences
  • I let the canoe drift with the current, trailing my paddle in the mocha-colored water.
  • I felt my copilot initially increase right rudder, trying to stop the aircraft's left drift.
  • We've got computer projections of drift according to the weather and charts which give us an approximation of survival times.
deviation, digression, veering, straying
1.2A steady movement or development from one thing towards another that is perceived as unwelcome: the drift towards a more repressive style of policing
More example sentences
  • This has resulted in a loss of focus and a drift towards multiple and contradictory objectives.
  • The drift is towards global business and financial consolidation.
  • The drift towards fiction has its compensations.
1.3 [mass noun] A state of inaction or indecision: after so much drift, any expression of enthusiasm is welcome
More example sentences
  • After 10 years of indecision and drift, Britain cannot remain on hold for another five years.
  • The parliamentary election was followed by three months of inactivity and drift in the summer of 1990.
  • Ministers say they want to ‘see an end to the drift and lack of mission in further education and training’ and plan to introduce a raft of new measures to raise standards.
1.4 Motorsports A controlled skid, used in taking bends at high speeds.
Example sentences
  • The car surges off the line and, sure enough, begins a slow drift to the left out of the well-defined groove.
  • Instead of a drifter causing a drift and then countering to straighten out, he will instead over-counter so his car goes into another drift.
  • To perform a drift you require a certain amount of instinct and a great deal of practice.
2 [in singular] The general intention or meaning of an argument or someone’s remarks: maybe I’m too close to the forest to see the trees, if you catch my drift he didn’t understand much Greek, but he got her drift
More example sentences
  • Well, I get the general drift of it - it has some familiar themes - but some references are puzzling.
  • You get the general drift of all that, don't you?
  • I suspect many posters on this board are deliberately misunderstanding the general drift of the main article.
gist, essence, core, meaning, sense, thesis, substance, significance, signification;
thrust, import, purport, tenor, vein, spirit;
implication, intention, direction, course, tendency, trend
3A large mass of snow, leaves, or other material piled up or carried along by the wind: four sheep were dug out of the drift
More example sentences
  • This evening, trudging along through the drifts of ripped leaves and shed blossom I could smell smoke on the air.
  • Fierce blizzards could blow in suddenly, bringing heavy snow that strong winds heaped into deep drifts.
  • The wind picks up, stirring the drifts until the snow looks like it's falling upward.
pile, heap, bank, mound, mass, accumulation, dune, ridge
3.1 [mass noun] Geology Glacial and fluvioglacial deposits left by retreating ice sheets.
Example sentences
  • It can readily be modelled as a body of low density representing a valley fill of glacial drift.
  • Because early geologists did not find recent glacial drift in the region, it became known as the Driftless Area.
  • Furthermore, it is not always clear whether fossils from a given locality are from in situ rocks or from spoil or clasts in glacial drift.
3.2A large spread of flowering plants growing together: a drift of daffodils
More example sentences
  • Their choice has the backing of Cumbria Tourist Board, which has relaunched its daffodil telephone hotline to satisfy people's desire to see great drifts of daffodils growing wild in the Lakes.
  • It is best grown in drifts in a semi-shaded spot beneath trees and shrubs and a fertile, well-drained soil is essential.
  • Like many other plants, the Pokers are best grown in large drifts if you can possibly afford the space.
4 Mining A horizontal or inclined passage following a mineral vein or coal seam: the drift led to another smaller ore chamber
More example sentences
  • We explored the areas that were not being mined, including miles of old abandoned drifts and stopes.
  • In recent years more of these nodules have been collected from the mine dump and a drift in the mine.
  • In subsurface ore mining, headings are driven into new ground, level drifts follow the ore, level crosscuts connect drifts, and vertical or inclined raises connect the workings from level to level.
5British historical An act of driving cattle or sheep.
Example sentences
  • It was a cattle drift between the Table Valley settlement and the interior.
5.1An act of herding cattle within a forest to a particular place on an appointed day in order to determine ownership or to levy fines.
6South African A ford.
Example sentences
  • Namibia Construction is building an 800 metre bridge which will elevate the road above the two drifts that have caused wash-outs in past rainy seasons.
  • At about 07:30, just after the troops had crossed the drift, they formed a hollow square formation comprising 4156 whites and 1152 blacks.
  • All was quiet for half an hour, till we crossed the drift.

Phrasal verbs

drift apart

(Of two or more people) gradually become less intimate or friendly: Lewis and his father drifted apart
More example sentences
  • The couple, expecting their decree nisi next month, have drifted apart in recent months.
  • In an exclusive interview, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai shows us what's making America's allies drift apart.
  • Over the years, however, they drifted apart.



adjective (driftier, driftiest)
Example sentences
  • I've got to make a couple of very hard decisions on a daily basis instead of taking the easy drifty way out.
  • ‘Yeah, I guess… ‘her voice had that drifty sound like that wasn't enough.
  • According to an economist at Tokyo University, the drifty lives of parasite singles are indeed a by-product of increased longevity, mainly because longer-lived seniors are holding on to their jobs.


Middle English (in the sense 'mass of snow, leaves, etc.'): originally from Old Norse drift 'snowdrift, something driven'; in later use from Middle Dutch drift 'course, current', and (in sense 6 of the noun) South African Dutch drift 'ford'; related to drive.

Words that rhyme with drift

adrift, gift, grift, lift, rift, shift, shrift, sift, squiffed, swift, thrift, uplift

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: drift

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