verb (used without object)

  1. to rest or remain on the surface of a liquid; be buoyant: The hollow ball floated.
  2. to move gently on the surface of a liquid; drift along: The canoe floated downstream.
  3. to rest or move in a liquid, the air, etc.: a balloon floating on high.
  4. to move lightly and gracefully: She floated down the stairs.
  5. to move or hover before the eyes or in the mind: Romantic visions floated before his eyes.
  6. to pass from one person to another: A nasty rumor about his firm is floating around town.
  7. to be free from attachment or involvement.
  8. to move or drift about: to float from place to place.
  9. to vacillate (often followed by between).
  10. to be launched, as a company, scheme, etc.
  11. (of a currency) to be allowed to fluctuate freely in the foreign-exchange market instead of being exchanged at a fixed rate.
  12. (of an interest rate) to change periodically according to money-market conditions.
  13. Commerce. to be in circulation, as an acceptance; be awaiting maturity.

verb (used with object)

  1. to cause to float.
  2. to cover with water or other liquid; flood; irrigate.
  3. to launch (a company, scheme, etc.); set going.
  4. to issue on the stock market in order to raise money, as stocks or bonds.
  5. to let (a currency or interest rate) fluctuate in the foreign-exchange or money market.
  6. to make smooth with a float, as the surface of plaster.
  7. Theater. to lay down (a flat), usually by bracing the bottom edge of the frame with the foot and allowing the rest to fall slowly to the floor.


  1. something that floats, as a raft.
  2. something for buoying up.
  3. an inflated bag to sustain a person in water; life preserver.
  4. (in certain types of tanks, cisterns, etc.) a device, as a hollow ball, that through its buoyancy automatically regulates the level, supply, or outlet of a liquid.
  5. Nautical. a floating platform attached to a wharf, bank, or the like, and used as a landing.
  6. Aeronautics. a hollow, boatlike structure under the wing or fuselage of a seaplane or flying boat, keeping it afloat in water.
  7. Angling. a piece of cork or other material for supporting a baited line in the water and indicating by its movements when a fish bites.
  8. Zoology. an inflated organ that supports an animal in the water.
  9. a vehicle bearing a display, usually an elaborate tableau, in a parade or procession: Each class prepared a float for the football pageant.
  10. a glass of fruit juice or soft drink with one or more scoops of ice cream floating in it: a root-beer float.
  11. (especially in the northeastern U.S.) a milk shake with one or more scoops of ice cream floating in it.
  12. paddle1(def 6).
  13. Banking. uncollected checks and commercial paper in process of transfer from bank to bank.
  14. the total amount of any cost-of-living or other variable adjustments added to an employee’s pay or a retiree’s benefits: a float of $6 per month on top of Social Security benefits.
  15. an act or instance of floating, as a currency on the foreign-exchange market.
  16. Building Trades.
    1. a flat tool for spreading and smoothing plaster or stucco.
    2. a tool for polishing marble.
  17. a single-cut file of moderate smoothness.
  18. a loose-fitting, sometimes very full dress without a waistline.
  19. (in weaving and knitting) a length of yarn that extends over several rows or stitches without being interworked.
  20. British. a sum of money used by a storekeeper to provide change for the till at the start of a day’s business.
  21. British. a small vehicle, usually battery powered, used to make deliveries, as of milk.
  22. a low-bodied dray for transporting heavy goods.
  23. Geology, Mining.
    1. loose fragments of rock, ore, etc., that have been moved from one place to another by the action of wind, water, etc.
    2. ore that has been washed downhill from an orebody and is found lying on the surface of the ground.
    3. any mineral in suspension in water.
  24. Usually floats. British Theater. footlight(def 1).

pl n

  1. theatre another word for footlights


  1. to rest or cause to rest on the surface of a fluid or in a fluid or space without sinking; be buoyant or cause to exhibit buoyancyoil floats on water; to float a ship
  2. to move or cause to move buoyantly, lightly, or freely across a surface or through air, water, etc; driftfog floated across the road
  3. to move about aimlessly, esp in the mindthoughts floated before him
  4. to suspend or be suspended without falling; hanglights floated above them
  5. (tr)
    1. to launch or establish (a commercial enterprise, etc)
    2. to offer for sale (stock or bond issues, etc) on the stock market
  6. (tr) finance to allow (a currency) to fluctuate against other currencies in accordance with market forces
  7. (tr) to flood, inundate, or irrigate (land), either artificially or naturally
  8. (tr) to spread, smooth, or level (a surface of plaster, rendering, etc)


  1. something that floats
  2. angling an indicator attached to a baited line that sits on the water and moves when a fish bites
  3. a small hand tool with a rectangular blade used for floating plaster, etc
  4. mainly US any buoyant object, such as a platform or inflated tube, used offshore by swimmers or, when moored alongside a pier, as a dock by vessels
  5. Also called: paddle a blade of a paddle wheel
  6. British a buoyant garment or device to aid a person in staying afloat
  7. a hollow watertight structure fitted to the underside of an aircraft to allow it to land on water
  8. another name for air bladder (def. 2)
  9. an exhibit carried in a parade, esp a religious parade
  10. a motor vehicle used to carry a tableau or exhibit in a parade, esp a civic parade
  11. a small delivery vehicle, esp one powered by batteriesa milk float
  12. Australian and NZ a vehicle for transporting horses
  13. banking, mainly US the total value of uncollected cheques and other commercial papers
  14. mainly US and Canadian a sum to be applied to minor expenses; petty cash
  15. a sum of money used by shopkeepers to provide change at the start of the day’s business, this sum being subtracted from the total at the end of the day when calculating the day’s takings
  16. the hollow floating ball of a ballcock
  17. engineering a hollow cylindrical structure in a carburettor that actuates the fuel valve
  18. mainly US and Canadian a carbonated soft drink with a scoop of ice cream in it
  19. (in textiles) a single thread brought to or above the surface of a woven fabric, esp to form a pattern
  20. forestry a measure of timber equal to eighteen loads

early 12c., “state of floating” (Old English flot meant “body of water”), from float (v.). Meaning “platform on wheels used for displays in parades, etc.” is from 1888, probably from earlier sense of “flat-bottomed boat” (1550s). As a type of fountain drink, by 1915.

Float.–An ade upon the top of which is floated a layer of grape juice, ginger ale, or in some cases a disher of fruit sherbet or ice cream. In the latter case it would be known as a “sherbet float” or an “ice-cream float.” [“The Dispenser’s Formulary: Or, Soda Water Guide,” New York, 1915]

Few soda water dispensers know what is meant by a “Float Ice Cream Soda.” This is not strange since the term is a coined one. By a “float ice cream soda” is meant a soda with the ice cream floating on top, thus making a most inviting appearance and impressing the customer that you are liberal with your ice cream, when you are not really giving any more than the fellow that mixes his ice cream “out of sight.” [“The Spatula,” Boston, July, 1908]


late Old English flotian “to float” (class II strong verb; past tense fleat, past participle floten), from Proto-Germanic *flutojanan (cf. Old Norse flota, Middle Dutch vloten), from PIE root *pleu- “to flow” (see pluvial). Of motion through air, from 1630s. Related: Floated; floating.

  1. An air-filled sac in certain aquatic organisms, such as kelp, that helps maintain buoyancy. Also called air bladder air vesicle

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