Recurrence vs. Reoccurrence

A mate recently asked me about the difference between ‘recurrence’ and ‘reoccurrence’. He firmly believed that ‘reoccurrence’ was ugly (I tend to agree) and that recurrence should be used instead.

Although my initial thought was that he was right. I was ready to get on my soapbox and demand that ugly words like ‘reoccurrence’ (and to a lesser extent ‘bewigged’) be defenestrated. However, I dug a little deeper and found a subtle difference.

Both appear in the Oxford English with essentially the same definition. The only difference being that recur mentions the word ‘periodic’.

Recur – verb (recurs, recurring, recurred)
occur again periodically or repeatedly:

“when the symptoms recurred, the doctor diagnosed something different.”

Reoccur – verb (reoccurs, reoccurring, reoccurred)
occur again or repeatedly:

“ulcers tend to reoccur after treatment has stopped.”

The difference is subtle, but with the definition of ‘recur’ (the inclusion of periodically) you can infer that a recurrence happens more than once, whereas a ‘reoccurrence’ might only be a once off repeat.

Although it seems to me that they can be used pretty much interchangeably (noting the subtle difference) there is a perception that reoccur is incorrect and ugly, and so might be avoided in formal documentation.

That’s how I see it anyway.

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10 thoughts on “Recurrence vs. Reoccurrence

  1. I’m not so sure I agree with your assessment about the subtle difference. The definition as you stated … “occur again periodically or repeatedly” … to me, by virtue of the word “or”, the implication is that periodically and repeatedly have similar meanings. Wouldn’t you agree that periodically implies repeatedly?

    • Interesting question. The subtle distinction between periodically and repeatedly is frequency. Periodically indicates occurring occasionally, whereas repeatedly indicates over and over again, constantly. What is considered occasional and constant can differ depending on the context. Taking a breath periodically could mean every 2 minutes, and repeatedly enquiring about the delivery of a new car could mean once per day. Isn’t language fun!

  2. So, would it be “Reoccurrence” or “Reoccurence”? In Typewriter Ding’s post above in the paragraph after the definition of reoccur, it is spelled with a single r.

  3. In my opinion, repetition doesn’t imply periodicity. I’m working on a document at work, an “incident form”. One of the sections (the document was provided to us as a sample and I’m simply putting the company logo on it) reads “Counter measures / best practices to prevent reoccurrence”. So it would seem, in this case, that the word would be used to imply an event that could happen again regardless of the time, that is, no period implied. Then again, I might be getting it all wrong. I’m not even a native English speaker…

  4. My 2 cents is to apply context to determine which version to use only when that cont4ext applies, but use preference for the remainder. I have never personally used “Recurrence” but I may start now when it is more appropriate. I think the description of “periodically” is best differentiated as “at regular intervals of time” and this is the subtle difference I see. I believe that something that will happen again, AND that can be reasonably anticipated to happen on a schedule or predictable pattern, should lean to “Recurrence” over “Reoccurrence”. I feel “Reoccurrence” is better suited to something that can or will happen again without an element of predictability as to when. Odds are “Reoccurrence” will be removed from acceptable usage because it has more characters and is more clumsy to pronounce. I still like it better though.

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