Reoccurring vs. Recurring: How to Choose the Right Word

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Recurring and reoccurring share a common root and refer to an event that happens more than once, but the two terms have distinct differences in definition. Understanding the difference between the words will help you describe events more clearly and accurately.

How to Use Recurring

Recur is a verb that describes an event that happens regularly and repeatedly, and is therefore predictable. The sunset recurs because it happens reliably every night. A recurring meeting is one that happens on the same day every week or month. A cable subscription is recurring because you are charged every month. The word recurring is more common than the word reoccurring.

How to Use Reoccurring

Reoccur is a verb that describes an event that repeats at least one time, but not necessarily more. If the reoccuring event does repeat more than once, the repetitions may be unpredictable. Natural disasters or physical trauma reoccur. While medical symptoms for chronic diseases may recur, efforts can be made to ensure that damage to a joint does not reoccur.

How to Remember the Difference

To understand the somewhat nuanced difference between these two terms, it is useful to examine their roots. Recur derives from recurrere, the Latin word meaning “to run back.” Reoccur stems from the prefix re- and the verb occur, which means “to happen.”

A helpful way to remember how to differentiate between the two words is to pay attention to their origins. Remember that reoccur derives from re- and occur. Reoccur means that an event has "re"-peated, but does not imply that the event happens on a regular basis.

Examples

The best way to learn the difference between recur and reoccur is to study real-life examples of word usage. The following examples offer deeper insight into how the two terms are used and how to differentiate between them.

  • After the financial crisis in 2008, banks created new systems so that the crisis would not reoccur. Reoccur is used in this instance because it refers to an event that has happened in the past and could potentially happen again, but is not guaranteed or predictable.
  • The actor was happy to learn that he would have a recurring role in the show’s first season. Recur is used here to mean that the actor will appear regularly on the show, and people will be able to anticipate seeing him on screen. In contrast, a reoccurring role could be one where an actor shows up throughout the series more than one time, but not at expected intervals.
  • The reoccurring flood conditions forced many residents of the coastal town to temporarily evacuate from their homes. Reoccurring is used here to show that the coastal town has experienced flooding more than one time, but that it is not necessarily an event that happens at regular intervals or that has happened repeatedly in the past.
  • Each year, the recurring monsoons in Tucson create thunderstorms with stunning lightning displays at night. Recurring is used in this sentence to emphasize that the monsoons occur on an annual basis. They happen predictably at the same time each year. Another recurring natural event is snowfall in the mountains; however, if the snowfall takes place in an area that does not get snow every year, the event would be reoccurring rather than recurring.
  • She adjusted her lifestyle to deal with the recurring symptoms of Lyme Disease and maintained a healthy lifestyle avoid a reoccurring bout of the flu: In this sentence, recur refers to symptoms that repeat at regular intervals. Meanwhile, reoccur refers to bouts of the flu, which can happen more than one time but are not guaranteed to happen more than once or at regular intervals. It is important to pay attention to the distinction between of these two words with regard to physical illness.
  • Presidential elections recur every four years, and sometimes the same issues from the previous one reoccur in the next. Presidential elections can be marked on a calendar and are anticipated on a regular basis; thus, they are reoccurring events. However, the issues that the candidates debate during their campaigns may or may not repeat from year to year. There is no guarantee that the same topics will be discussed, or reoccur, during subsequent elections.