Recurring vs. Reoccurring: Get It Right Every Time

The words recurring and reoccurring are very similar in spelling, pronunciation and meaning, but they aren't synonyms for one another. Because these words are so close in meaning, it can be very tricky to choose the correct term to accurately convey what you mean. Fortunately, once you know exactly how these terms differ you'll be able to consistently make the right selection.

recurring vs reoccurring examples recurring vs reoccurring examples

Recurring vs. Reoccurring: Definition Differences

Recurring and reoccurring have nearly identical definitions, with one important difference. Both words refer to something that is repeated, such as an event that happens again after the first time it occurs. The difference lies in the regularity with which the event occurs.

  • recurring (rĭ-kûr-ing)- Something that happens on a recurring basis takes place multiple times over a period of time. It sometimes, but not always, happens periodically. There is an expectation that it will continue occurring on an ongoing basis.
  • reoccurring (rē'ə-kûr-ing) - Something that is reoccurring has already happened once and then happens again. However, it doesn't necessarily happen frequently or on an ongoing basis. There is no expectation that it will continue to happen.

A single repetition (or a few repetitions) of something is a reoccurring event. However, it's a repeated occurrence that doesn't meet the definition of recurring unless it continues to happen over and over. There isn't a specific number of times that something has to be repeated in order for it to be considered recurring.

Memory Tip: Relate to Repeat/Repetitive

To help remember the difference, link these words in your mind to the concepts of repeating versus being repetitive. This simple tip can help you select the correct word every time.

  • Repeat is a very close synonym for reoccurring. When something repeats (even just once) it is reoccurring.
  • Repetitive means basically the same thing as recurring. When something is repetitive, it happens over and over. Things that are repetitive are recurring.

Think of it like this:

  • When something repeats after it has happened once, the fact that it is reoccurring may surprise you. Think of the o in the word as "Oh, it happened again!"
  • If it continues to happen, it won't be so surprising each time. That's when it becomes recurring. Since it's not surprising, there is no reason for an "Oh, so recurring doesn't have one.

Just as something repeats before it becomes repetitive, something has to be reoccurring before it becomes recurring.

Recurring vs. Reoccurring: Real-World Examples

Consider these real-world examples of repeat situations that can be described using either recurring or reoccurring. The first time (or even a few times) the situation happens, it is reoccurring. When it becomes something that happens quite frequently or at regular intervals, then it is recurring.

Repeated Dreams

It's not unusual for people to have similar dreams more than once.

  • Someone has a weird dream. The person has another dream that is virtually identical to the original one. The second time the dream occurs, it is reoccurring.
  • A person has had a similar dream once or twice per month for the last several years. Because it happens over and over, this is a recurring dream.

Medical Conditions

Medical conditions can come back after they heal or are cured.

  • A person could be diagnosed with cancer, get treatment, go into remission, and be declared cancer-free. A later, repeat cancer diagnosis would represent a reoccurring illness.
  • Someone who suffers from chronic migraines doesn't always have a headache, but they probably occur frequently. The person's migraines would be a recurring issue.

Punctuality Habits

There is a difference between a person who only very occasionally arrives late versus someone who is chronically tardy.

  • An employee who is always on time was tardy two days last month. Her car broke down the first time. The second time, there was an unusual traffic delay on her way to work. The second incident would be considered a reoccurring one.
  • The same employee continues to have issues on an ongoing basis with being late to work several days each week, with different excuses each time. What began as a reocurring situation has evolved into a recurring problem with the person's punctuality.

Meal Rotation

Are repeated recipes reoccurring or recurring? It depends if you make them every now and then or quite often.

  • If you made meatloaf a while back and decide to try the same recipe again, then it would be a reoccurring main dish.
  • If your family follows a repetitive meal plan, such as meatless Mondays or taco Tuesdays, your main dish selections are recurring.

Alternate Forms of Reocurring and Recurring

There are a few different forms of the words reoccurring and recurring, such as recur vs reoccur. Each represents a different part of speech.

  • recurring - adjective
  • recurrent - adjective
  • recur - verb
  • recurs - verb
  • recurred - past tense verb
  • recurrence - noun
  • reoccurring - adjective
  • reoccur - verb
  • reoccurs - verb
  • reoccurred - past tense verb
  • reoccurrence - noun

Correct Language Usage Matters

The words recurring and reoccurring are so similar that your audience will probably know what you mean even if you choose the wrong word. However, it's still very important to make sure you're using words correctly. Even when the difference between two terms is so small that it seems like a minor semantic detail, using any words incorrectly can lead to misunderstanding. Take the time to learn the difference between commonly confused words so you'll be able to communicate clearly and effectively. Start by exploring other words that have a one-letter difference such as especially vs. specially.

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