Many of the homophones we look at on this blog have completely different uses from one another. But ‘reoccur’ and ‘recur’ can both mean ‘happen again’. So are they interchangeable? Not always! 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 ‘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. But we’re not saying it happens regularly or frequently.
Recur (Happen at Regular Intervals)
‘Recur’ is another verb that means ‘happen again’. For example:
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Symptoms may recur if treatment is discontinued.
This sense of ‘recur’ is thus interchangeable with ‘reoccur’. However, ‘recur’ can also mean ‘happens repeatedly or at regular intervals’. For instance:
Fear of technological change recurs throughout Dickens’ writing.
In this sentence, ‘recur’ implies that Dickens returns to the theme of technological fear repeatedly in his writing, not simply that he wrote about it a couple of times. So when something happens frequently or regularly, it is better to use ‘recur’ than ‘reoccur’.
Summary: Reoccur or Recur?
While ‘recur’ and ‘reoccur’ are usually close in meaning, they do differ in some cases. Keep the following guideline in mind:
To reoccur is to happen more than once, regardless of how often.
To recur means to happen repeatedly or at regular intervals.
Thus, if something happens repeatedly or regularly (e.g. the sunrise), you can say it ‘recurs’. But if something has happened more than once without happening regularly, use ‘reoccur’ instead. And if you’d like more help your word choice, don’t forget our outstanding proofreading service.