1. a ridge of rocks or sand, often of coral debris, at or near the surface of the water.
  2. Mining. a lode or vein.


  1. a part of a sail that is rolled and tied down to reduce the area exposed to the wind.

verb (used with object)

  1. to shorten (sail) by tying in one or more reefs.
  2. to reduce the length of (a topmast, a bowsprit, etc.), as by lowering, sliding inboard, or the like.
  3. to pull (old oakum) out of seams, as with a rave hook (often followed by out).


  1. a ridge of rock, sand, coral, etc, the top of which lies close to the surface of the sea
  2. a ridge- or mound-like structure built by sedentary calcareous organisms (esp corals) and consisting mainly of their remains
  3. a vein of ore, esp one of gold-bearing quartz


  1. the part gathered in when sail area is reduced, as in a high wind


  1. to reduce the area of (sail) by taking in a reef
  2. (tr) to shorten or bring inboard (a spar)

noun the Reef

  1. another name for the Great Barrier Reef
  2. another name for the Witwatersrand

“rock ridge underwater,” 1580s, riffe, probably via Dutch riffe, from a Scandinavian source, cf. Old Norse rif “ridge in the sea; reef in a sail,” literally “rib” (see rib (n.)).


“horizontal section of sail,” late 14c. (mid-14c. in rif-rope), from a Scandinavian source, cf. Old Norse rif “reef of a sail,” probably a transferred use of rif “ridge under the sea; rib” (see rib (n.) and cf. reef (n.1)). German reff, Swedish ref, Norwegian riv, Danish reb likely all are from the Old Norse word.


1660s, “take in, roll up” (as a sail on a ship), from reef (n.2). Related: Reefed; reefing.

  1. A strip or ridge of rocks, sand, or coral that rises to or near the surface of a body of water. See more at coral reef.

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