• 2-minute read
  • 26th February 2019

Word Choice: Recur vs. Reoccur

Many of the homophones we look at on this blog differ completely from one another in meaning. But ‘reoccur’ and ‘recur’ can both mean ‘happen again’. So are they interchangeable? Not always, unfortunately! There is a subtle difference between these terms, as we will explain below.

Reoccur (Happen Again)

‘Reoccur’ is a verb that means ‘happen again’. In fact, it is literally a combination of the prefix ‘re-’ (meaning ‘again’) and the word ‘occur’ (meaning ‘happen’). As such, we could say:

Symptoms may reoccur if treatment is discontinued.

Here, for example, we’re saying that the symptoms may occur again. Frequency does not matter with this term, so we can use ‘reoccur’ even if something has only happened twice:

Patrick’s back problem from last summer reoccurred.

In the sentence above, for instance, we’re describing the second occurrence of something. It has therefore ‘reoccurred’.

Recur (Happen at Regular Intervals)

‘Recur’ is another verb that can mean ‘happen again’. For example:

Symptoms may recur if treatment is discontinued.

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As you can see, this sense of ‘recur’ is interchangeable with ‘reoccur’ as we have defined it above. However, ‘recur’ can also mean ‘happens repeatedly or at regular intervals’. For instance, we could say:

Fear of technological change recurs throughout Dickens’ writing.

In this sentence, ‘recur’ specifically implies that Dickens returns to the theme of technological fear repeatedly in his writing, not simply that he did it on two separate occasions. So when something happens frequently or regularly, it is better to use the word ‘recur’ than ‘reoccur’.

Summary: Recur or Reoccur?

While ‘recur’ and ‘reoccur’ are similar in meaning, there is a difference between them. Keep the following in mind:

  • To recur means to happen repeatedly or at regular intervals.
  • To reoccur is to happen more than once, regardless of how often.

Thus, if something happens on a regular basis (e.g. the sunrise or eating breakfast in the morning), you can say that it ‘recurs’. But if it is simply something that happens more than once without happening regularly, it may be better to use the term ‘reoccur’.

And if you’d like any more help with word choice in your writing, don’t forget that we offer vocabulary tips as part of our proofreading service.

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