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From Middle English schiften, from Old English sċiftan (to divide, separate into shares; appoint, ordain; arrange, organise), from Proto-Germanic *skiftijaną, *skiptijaną, from earlier *skipatjaną (to organise, put in order), from Proto-Indo-European *skeyb- (to separate, divide, part), from Proto-Indo-European *skey- (to cut, divide, separate, part). Cognate with Scots schift, skift (to shift), West Frisian skifte, skiftsje (to sort), Dutch schiften (to sort, screen, winnow, part), German schichten (to stack, layer), Swedish skifta (to shift, change, exchange, vary), Norwegian skifte (to shift), Icelandic skipta (to switch). See ship.



shift (countable and uncountable, plural shifts)

  1. (historical) A type of women's undergarment, a slip.
    Just last week she bought a new shift at the market.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, chapter X, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volume (please specify |volume=I to VI), London: A[ndrew] Millar [], OCLC 928184292, book V:
      No; without a gown, in a shift that was somewhat of the coarsest, and none of the cleanest, bedewed likewise with some odoriferous effluvia, the produce of the day's labour, with a pitchfork in her hand, Molly Seagrim approached.
    • 1762, Charles Johnstone, The Reverie; or, A Flight to the Paradise of Fools[1], volume 2, Dublin: Printed by Dillon Chamberlaine, OCLC 519072825, page 202:
      At length, one night, when the company by some accident broke up much sooner than ordinary, so that the candles were not half burnt out, she was not able to resist the temptation, but resolved to have them some way or other. Accordingly, as soon as the hurry was over, and the servants, as she thought, all gone to sleep, she stole out of her bed, and went down stairs, naked to her shift as she was, with a design to steal them []
    • 1919, W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence, chapter 47
      Some wear black shifts and flesh-coloured stockings; some with curly hair, dyed yellow, are dressed like little girls in short muslin frocks.
  2. A change of workers, now specifically a set group of workers or period of working time.
    We'll work three shifts a day till the job's done.
  3. An act of shifting; a slight movement or change.
    There was a shift in the political atmosphere.
    • c. 1620-1626, Henry Wotton, letter to Nicholas Pey
      My going to Oxford was not merely for shift of air.
    • 2012 November 7, Matt Bai, “Winning a Second Term, Obama Will Confront Familiar Headwinds”, in New York Times[2]:
      The generational shift Mr. Obama once embodied is, in fact, well under way, but it will not change Washington as quickly — or as harmoniously — as a lot of voters once hoped.
  4. (US) The gear mechanism in a motor vehicle.
    Does it come with a stick-shift?
  5. Alternative spelling of Shift (a modifier button of computer keyboards).
    If you press shift-P, the preview display will change.
  6. (computing) A bit shift.
  7. (baseball) The infield shift.
    Teams often use the shift against this lefty.
  8. (Ireland, crude slang, often with the definite article, usually uncountable) The act of kissing passionately.
  9. (archaic) A contrivance, a device to try when other methods fail.
    • 1596, Shakespeare, History of King John
      If I get down, and do not break my limbs,
      I'll find a thousand shifts to get away:
      As good to die and go, as die and stay.
  10. (archaic) A trick, an artifice.
  11. (construction) The extent, or arrangement, of the overlapping of plank, brick, stones, etc., that are placed in courses so as to break joints.
  12. (mining) A breaking off and dislocation of a seam; a fault.
  13. (genetics) A mutation in which the DNA or RNA from two different sources (such as viruses or bacteria) combine.
    • 2017, Laura Spinney, Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World, →ISBN:
      This kind of change, called shift - or more memorably, 'viral sex' - tends to trigger a pandemic, because a radically different virus demands a radically different immune response, and that takes time to mobilise.
  14. (music) In violin-playing, any position of the left hand except that nearest the nut.


Derived terms[edit]



shift (third-person singular simple present shifts, present participle shifting, simple past and past participle shifted)

  1. (transitive, sometimes figurative) To move from one place to another; to redistribute.
    We'll have to shift these boxes to the downtown office.
    • 2012 March 1, William E. Carter, Merri Sue Carter, “The British Longitude Act Reconsidered”, in American Scientist, volume 100, number 2, page 87:
      But was it responsible governance to pass the Longitude Act without other efforts to protect British seamen? Or might it have been subterfuge—a disingenuous attempt to shift attention away from the realities of their life at sea.
    • 2013 June 22, “T time”, in The Economist, volume 407, number 8841, page 68:
      The ability to shift profits to low-tax countries by locating intellectual property in them, which is then licensed to related businesses in high-tax countries, is often assumed to be the preserve of high-tech companies. […] current tax rules make it easy for all sorts of firms to generate […] “stateless income”: profit subject to tax in a jurisdiction that is neither the location of the factors of production that generate the income nor where the parent firm is domiciled.
  2. (transitive, figurative) To change in form or character; swap.
    • 2008, June Granatir Alexander, ‎Ethnic Pride, American Patriotism (page ix)
      As a result, I shifted my approach to focus on group-generated activities and broadened the chronological time frame.
  3. (intransitive) To change position.
    She shifted slightly in her seat.
    His political stance shifted daily.
  4. (intransitive, India) To change residence; to leave and live elsewhere.
    We are shifting to America next month.
    Synonym: move
  5. (obsolete, transitive) To change (clothes, especially underwear).
    • 1624, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], The Anatomy of Melancholy: [], 2nd edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Printed by John Lichfield and James Short, for Henry Cripps, OCLC 54573970:
      , II.ii.2:
      'Tis very good to wash his hands and face often, to shift his clothes, to have fair linen about him, to be decently and comely attired […].
  6. (obsolete, transitive, reflexive) To change (someone's) clothes; sometimes specifically, to change underwear.
    • c. 1597, William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, Act V, Scene 5,[3]
      As it were, to ride day and night; and [] not to have patience to shift me.
    • 1751, Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, I.21:
      The first thing he did was to secure a convenient lodging at the inn where he dined; then he shifted himself, and according to the direction he had received, went to the house of Mrs. Gauntlet [] .
  7. (intransitive) To change gears (in a car).
    I crested the hill and shifted into fifth.
  8. (typewriters) To move the keys of a typewriter over in order to type capital letters and special characters.
  9. (computer keyboards) To switch to a character entry mode for capital letters and special characters.
  10. (transitive, computing) To manipulate a binary number by moving all of its digits left or right; compare rotate.
    Shifting 1001 to the left yields 10010; shifting it right yields 100.
  11. (transitive, computing) To remove the first value from an array.
  12. (transitive) To dispose of.
    How can I shift a grass stain?
  13. (intransitive) To hurry.
    If you shift, you might make the 2:19.
  14. (Ireland, vulgar, slang) To engage in sexual petting.
  15. (archaic) To resort to expedients for accomplishing a purpose; to contrive; to manage.
    • 1692, Roger L’Estrange, Fables of Æsop and Other Eminent Mythologists with Morals and Reflexions, London: R. Sare et al., Fable 83, Reflexion, p. 81,[4]
      [] men in distress will look to themselves in the First Place, and leave their Companions to Shift as well as they can.
    • 1743, Robert Drury, The Pleasant, and Surprizing Adventures of Mr. Robert Drury, during his Fifteen Years Captivity on the Island of Madagascar, London, p. 112,[5]
      My Fellow-Slaves were [] as courteous to me as I could well-expect; and as they had Plantations of their own, they gave me [] such Victuals as they had; especially on dark Nights, and at such Times as I could not shift for myself.
  16. To practice indirect or evasive methods.
    • 1614, Walter Raleigh, History of the World, London: Walter Burre, Part 1, Chapter 3, Section 7, p. 45,[6]
      But this I dare auow of all those Schoole-men, that though they were exceeding wittie, yet they better teach all their Followers to shift, then to resolue, by their distinctions.
  17. (music) In violin-playing, to move the left hand from its original position next to the nut.



Derived terms[edit]




shift m (plural shifts)

  1. shift (button on a keyboard)