Definition of shift in English:

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Pronunciation: /ʃɪft/


1Move or cause to move from one place to another, especially over a small distance: [with object]: a team from the power company came to shift the cables away from the house [no object]: the roof cracked and shifted
More example sentences
  • After the system is docked, the nurse reassesses the patient's position to ensure that nothing moved or shifted during transfer.
  • So things are once again in a state of rearrangement in my humble apartment, getting shifted, moved around and reassigned.
  • And the aisle all the way to the door bustled with Adivasi vegetable vendors who squatted with their baskets shifting and moving till they found a comfort zone.
move, carry, transfer, transport, convey, take, bring, bear, lug, cart, haul, fetch, switch, move around, transpose, relocate, reposition, rearrange, displace
move, slide, slip, move around, be displaced
1.1 [no object] Change the position of one’s body, especially because one is nervous or uncomfortable: he shifted a little in his chair
More example sentences
  • I shifted uncomfortably in my position on a plastic covered sofa.
  • Brant shifted uncomfortably, obviously nervous about the gun still pointed directly at him and he began to lower his hands.
  • One would ordinarily shift from a physical position which grows increasingly uncomfortable, but the meditator does not.
change, alter, adjust, make adjustments to, adapt, amend, recast, vary, modify, revise, reverse, retract, do a U-turn on, row back;
eat one's words;
British  do an about-turn on
1.2 [with object] Change the emphasis, direction, or focus of: she’s shifting the blame on to me
More example sentences
  • While all deaths on the roads are avoidable it seems that your campaign aims to shift the focus and blame away from motorcyclists and onto other road users.
  • The economic culture in particular was shifted significantly in the direction of enterprise.
  • We can expect to see a push for more of the tax burden to be shifted onto employers.
1.3 [no object] Change in emphasis, direction, or focus: the wind had shifted to the east the balance of power shifted abruptly
More example sentences
  • If the area is violent, the balance of power can shift in the opposite direction.
  • But even as the balance of power on the ground shifted in one direction, the balance of politics at home was shifting in the other.
  • The focus of his attention shifted abruptly to the moonlit scene before him.
veer, alter, change, back, vary, fluctuate, turn, swing, change direction
1.4 [no object] British informal Move quickly: you’ll have time for a bite if you shift
More example sentences
  • As soon as you start facing complaints from your customer you'd better shift.
1.5 (in imperative shift oneself) British informal Move from a place or rouse oneself from a state of inactivity: shift yourself, Ruby, do something useful and get the plates
More example sentences
  • I reckon that Old Shifty won't shift himself until there is absolutely no money left in the tea caddy where they keep the pension dosh.
  • Use focus to shift yourself to states of motivation, productivity or your goals.
  • You will understand how important it is to shift yourself
1.6 [with object] Computing Move (data) to the right or left in a register: the partial remainder is shifted left
More example sentences
  • And, after the next clock pulse at t5, all logic 1s will have been shifted out, replaced by 0s.
  • A register that is capable of shifting data one bit at a time is called a shift register.
  • A bidirectional shift register, which is capable of shifting bits to the left (L) or right (R), will then be capable of performing modulo-2 division and multiplication operations.
1.7 [with object] British informal Remove (a stain): thorough cleaning is necessary to shift all cooking residues
More example sentences
  • This Vanish stain remover can shift bolognaise sauce, tea, coffee, curry, blood, a little engine oil (like if you splash some by accident when you're topping up your car oil), and these are just a few stains of what it is good at getting rid of.
  • And she's not afraid to use it, regularly calling in with the solution to a hard-to-shift stain or to correct the advice of the on-air expert.
  • If soap and water doesn't shift the stain scrub the area with a nail-brush dipped in vinegar and salt.
get rid of, take out, get off, remove, budge, lift, expunge
1.8 [with object] informal Sell (something): a lot of high-priced product you simply don’t know how to shift
More example sentences
  • It's very important to finish the design phase before the end of this year (so that we can shift the product to the market at the beginning of next year).
  • I know that there is an element of advertising - my whisky must be good because there is a bottle in TWE at £10000! - but they must also want to shift some product.
  • We really did shift some stuff last weekend, didn't we?
1.9 [with object] British informal Eat or drink (something) hastily or in large amounts.
Example sentences
  • Herr Murr calculated Britons were shifting beer at a staggering rate of 200 pints per minute.
  • And if you think Poleson can shift whisky, you should have seen Macintyre in his prime, I'm amazed he's still alive.
2 [no object] chiefly North American Change gear in a vehicle: she shifted down to fourth
More example sentences
  • To maintain the vehicle speed, she would have to shift into a lower gear.
  • Zaren pushed in the clutch and shifted to second gear and the car made a sudden leap in speed.
  • To shift into fourth gear, you push the button yet again.
3 [no object] archaic Be evasive or indirect: they know not how to shift and rob as the old ones do
More example sentences
  • He leads by following opinion, he trims, he shifts, he glides on the silvery sounds of his undulating, flexible, cautiously modulated voice, winding his way betwixt heaven and earth.


1A slight change in position, direction, or tendency: a shift in public opinion
More example sentences
  • Change can be no more than a slight shift in direction - although, as when a tanker ship charts a new course, this may have dramatic long-term consequences.
  • The change in size also heralds a slight shift in editorial direction.
  • In my eyes a slight shift in the script would make the ending of the show seem a tad less grim.
movement, move, shifting, transference, transport, conveyance, switch, transposition;
relocation, repositioning, rearrangement
change, alteration, adjustment, adaptation, amendment, recasting, variation, modification, revision, reversal, retraction, sea change, U-turn, rowback;
British  about-turn
1.1 [mass noun] Astronomy The displacement of spectral lines. See also red shift.
Example sentences
  • This spectral shift possibly reflects increased hydrogen bonding and/or specific iterations with cationic species.
  • Single wavelength probes only show changes in intensity on binding with no spectral shift.
  • The spectral shift occurs slowly, reaching a plateau after 15-20 min, and is fully reversible.
1.2 (also shift key) A key on a typewriter or computer keyboard used to switch between two sets of characters or functions, principally between lower- and upper-case letters.
Example sentences
  • The symbol following the shift key could then come from an alternative set of characters, just as the shift key on a keyboard offers access to new symbols.
  • This allows one of the keys to double as a shift key similar to a shift key on a keyboard.
  • When you put a disc in the drive, hold the shift key on your keyboard - before the disc is inserted.
1.3 short for sound shift.
Example sentences
  • Many of these ‘mistakes’ are easily-explained shifts in the sound system of spoken English.
  • But through prescribed borders, shifts in dialect coalesced into distinct languages.
  • The stories she listened to intrigued her with their form as well as their content, the myriad dialects, shifts, and cadences of African American voices.
1.4North American The gear lever or gear-changing mechanism in a vehicle.
Example sentences
  • Smooth acceleration occurred whether you used the auto box, the paddle shift or the Tiptronic system.
  • I thought ForceFed's was a full sequential transmission with computer controlled clutch and all, not just a sequential gear shift.
  • All the sequential shifter does is convert the back and forth motion to move the two shifter rods in a standard H pattern gear shift.
1.5 [mass noun] Building The positioning of successive rows of bricks so that their ends do not coincide.
Example sentences
  • The problem is the brick pattern needs to start at the top of the4" block wall, this equates to a 1/2 course of one brick shift upward.
1.6 Computing A movement of the digits of a word in a register one or more places to left or right, equivalent to multiplying or dividing the corresponding number by a power of whatever number is the base.
Example sentences
  • I state that to multiply by 10 you use shifts to quickly multiply by 2 and 8 and then add the results.
  • At each time step from t=1 onwards, the right shift results in a state change which indicates a division by two operation.
  • Similarly, if we operate in reverse chronological order (i.e. from t=4 to t=1), the left shift will result in a multiplication by two.
1.7 American Football A change of position by two or more players before the ball is put into play.
Example sentences
  • The shifts never jar the player out of the experience, never dent the game's inherent fluidity.
  • Nebraska is a classic West Coast team with a lot of jumps and scramble shifts before the ball is snapped.
  • I always enjoy the shouts among defenders when an offensive team puts a man in motion or shifts before the snap.
2Each of two or more recurring periods in which different groups of workers do the same jobs in relay: Anne was on the night shift
More example sentences
  • I had been working overnight shifts with continuous periods of work with no real rest over a good 12 hours.
  • The chemical mixing section, which used to employ 50 people on four different shifts, will now be run by four contract workers.
  • They work different shifts; each commutes 60 miles a day.
work period, stint, spell of work, stretch
2.1The group of people who work during a particular shift: the bus was still waiting there when the day shift went home
More example sentences
  • I understood and sat up, searching for my shift on the floor.
  • We have a skeleton crew here now, but as soon as the phone stops ringing I am going to hire a second crew and then a third shift and do a weekend run.
  • Around 50 people were transported in the first few hours by the team, who were replaced at teatime by a second shift who remained at the village until midnight.
group, crew, gang, team, squad, patrol
3 (also shift dress) A woman’s straight unwaisted dress.
Example sentences
  • Today she is wearing a simple shift dress and no make-up and the sight of her looking so ordinary and conventional is indeed slightly shocking.
  • The suit had a matching knee length skirt, shell top and shift dress; with the chiffon blouses she already had they would do for several different outfits.
  • His masterpiece to date is his American Rose beaded V-neck shift dress, a combination of nine colours, which was a show-stopper at MAFW '04.
3.1 historical A long, loose-fitting undergarment.
Example sentences
  • She finally decided on a sky blue dress with a beige shift underneath.
  • She stripped down to her shift, putting her dress carefully in a corner, and progressed to the armoire.
  • She pulled a brightly coloured gown over her shift, tying it at the waist with a decorative sash.
4 archaic An ingenious or devious device or stratagem: the thousand shifts and devices of which Hannibal was a master
More example sentences
  • Others were less well placed, and had to devise various shifts and stratagems to maintain their social and political position.
  • Too often the unemployed blamed themselves rather than society for what they saw as their failures, for the shifts and stratagems by which they were forced to survive.
  • "I cannot trust thee," cried the Assassin; for when I am gone thou wilt return to thy old courses, and, by some ingenious shift or other, contrive to free thyself from the obligation of thy oath."
stratagem, scheme, subterfuge, expedient, dodge, trick, ruse, wile, artifice, deception, strategy, device, plan



get a shift on

British informal Hurry up: it’s quite a drive to London, so we should really get a shift on
More example sentences
  • It's two day's ride, if we cut across country and get a shift on.
  • Walsall need to get a shift on and improve the Bescot Stadium if they want to play first division football next year.
  • I'm going to have to get a shift on if I'm going to have another CD written and recorded by the end of the year.

make shift

Do what one wants to do in spite of not having ideal conditions.
Example sentences
  • If this is what we have to do, make an effort - if we have to make shift with things as they are and not as we wish they were - then I hope I am up to that effort.
  • In that absence one makes do - makes shift - with what is to hand and with the hands one has.
  • As You Like It is the precursor of King Lear in a number of respects; the Forest of Arden is a harsh place and people who dwell there must make shift to survive.

shift for oneself

Manage as best one can without help.
Example sentences
  • A city could expect to have the months of winter uninterrupted by visitors, and whether for purposes of survival or for purposes of entertainment, residents had to shift for themselves and for each other.
  • If this principle of noninterference is practiced resolutely, the minority - presumably less resourceful - groups must be left alone to shift for themselves.
  • Pea-Jacket left Sarah Curley and her two sons to shift for themselves.
cope (on one's own), manage (by oneself), survive, manage without help/assistance, make it on one's own, fend for oneself, take care of oneself, make do, get by/along, scrape by/along, muddle through/along;
make ends meet, keep the wolf from the door, stand on one's own two feet, keep one's head above water
informal paddle one's own canoe, make out

shift one's ground

Say or write something that contradicts something one has previously written or said.
Example sentences
  • Are you struggling to keep up with events, or shifting your ground to try to keep in step with Joe public?
  • Since opponents of vouchers remain strong, rather than risk everything on an all-singing, all-dancing scheme that he was unlikely to get through Congress, he shifted his ground.
  • Instead of trying to show from the nature of the situation that there is a logical difference between the two kinds of ownership, he shifts his ground to a consideration of consequences.



Example sentences
  • Funny, it is generally accepted as the height of sociolinguistic sophistication to shift the shiftable aspects of your speech (vowel quality being a prime example) in the direction of the speech of those you are speaking to.
  • The cube has a fourfold symmetry, and is somewhat shiftable.
  • The computation can be accomplished using what we call the shared sketch by shiftable bases.


Old English sciftan 'arrange, divide, apportion', of Germanic origin; related to German schichten 'to layer, stratify'. A common Middle English sense 'change, replace' gave rise to sense 3 of the noun (via the notion of changing one's clothes) and sense 2 of the noun (via the concept of relays of workers).

Words that rhyme with shift

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

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: shift

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