“Reoccur” or “Recur”? Which Is Correct?

The other day while giving feedback to a client on her customer-service writing, I noticed this sentence: "Once you receive your new card, please contact any merchants with whom you have reoccurring charges." Reoccurring charges? Is that correct? Or should it be “recurring charges”? What do you think? 

Before I share what the style guides say about this question, test yourself on these three sentences:

  1. I was sorry to learn that your symptoms have recurred/reoccurred. 
  2. If this problem recurs/reoccurs, please contact us immediately. 
  3. Amy finds it difficult to track all the recurring/reoccurring withdrawals from her account.

Were the answers to those items simple to recognize? Please think about that again after you read what the style guides say. 

The University of Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition (the 16th edition does not include the entry):

To recur is to happen again and again {his knee problems recurred throughout the rest of the year}, to return to in one's attention or memory {she recurred to her war experiences throughout our visit}, or to come back to one's attention or memory {the idea recurred to him throughout the night}. 

To reoccur is merely to happen again {the leak reoccurred during the second big rain}. 

 

Garner's Modern English Usage:

Recur means "to happen repeatedly, often at more or less regular intervals."

Reoccur (less common) means merely "to happen again." 

 

If we stop with those two style manuals, we can easily answer the items above, right?

Like this:

Once you receive your new card, please contact any merchants with whom you have recurring charges. (happening again and again) 
I was sorry to learn that your symptoms have reoccurred. (happened again)
If this problem reoccurs, please contact us immediately. (happens again) 
Amy finds it difficult to track all the recurring withdrawals from her account. (happening again and again)

 

Shall we stop there, or shall we see what a few other guides say? Oh, why not check a few more? 

 

The Associated Press Stylebook 2019 says "recur, recurred, recurring. Not reoccur." According to AP, recur is correct in every item above. 

The Gregg Reference Manual seems to agree with AP. It gives only a pronunciation tip: "Recur. Say ree-KURR (NOT: ree-uh-KURR)."

To the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the words seem interchangeable. Notice that the first definition of recur is essentially the same as that of reoccur. 

Recur: 
1. occur again; be repeated.
2. (of a thought, idea, etc.) come back to one's mind. 
3. (followed by to) go back in thought or speech.

Reoccur:
occur again or habitually 

 

Neither Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition nor The American Heritage College Dictionary includes an entry for reoccur, which suggests that the word is doomed. For recur they say:

M-W
1: to have recourse: RESORT
2: to go back in thought or discourse (on recurring to my letters of that date–Thomas Jefferson)
3a: to come up again for consideration
3b: to come again to mind
4: to occur again after an interval: occur time after time (the cancer recurred)

AH:
1. To happen, come up, or show up again or repeatedly.
2. To return to one's attention or memory. 
3. To return in thought or discourse.
4. To have recourse: recur to force. 

 

Update on September 25 
Reader Colleen Price shared this information about Merriam-Webster's in a comment: 

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate and Unabridged (via paid online subscription) both include the word "reoccur." M-W Collegiate has the first definition as "to occur again : to happen another time : recur," while M-W Unabridged simply says, "to occur again."

 

Given all that information, where do you stand? You could simply wipe reoccur from your vocabulary. Or you could safely use it when it refers to just one repetition or return, such as "I am sorry that the situation reoccured." I'm going to go with Chicago and Garner and make that small distinction. 

What's your view? Have you added recur and reoccur to your style sheet? Read my "Why You Need a Style Sheet and How to Create One." 

Lynn
Syntax Training

13 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting. On my first pass through this, I came to the realization that I would never write the word reoccur, but I definitely say it when speaking. And, the word I choose when speaking follows the rule as you initially present. I had no idea I was doing this.

  2. Thanks for an interesting blog post.

    I wonder if one of the reasons why reoccur seems to be on the wane is that while there are plenty of terms with recur, particularly in finance, I can’t think of any terms with reoccur. Please post below if you know of any, and particularly if you use it.

    Reoccur is simply a more complicated way of saying something happened again, and there are probably few situations that call for the more complicated expression when speaking. Even in slightly more formal writing, I’d be more likely to use “Notify us as soon as possible if the problem occurs again”, rather than “…reoccurs”.

    Would it be completely wrong to say “I was sorry to learn that your symptoms have returned?”

  3. Hi Maria,

    It is perfectly fine to say or write “I was sorry to learn that your symptoms have returned.”

    You asked whether I would use “reoccur,” and I would. For example, I might write something like “Let me know if the problem reoccurs.” It’s shorter than “happens again.” But you’re justified in thinking that “reoccurs” feels more formal than “happens again.” It’s a matter of tone.

    Thanks for thinking about this topic with me.

    Lynn

  4. Thank you for another good post, Lynn. I appreciate your column. I wanted to mention that the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate and Unabridged (via paid online subscription) both include the word “reoccur.” M-W Collegiate has the first definition as “to occur again : to happen another time : recur,” while M-W Unabridged simply says, “to occur again.” I wonder why the 11th edition (I assume hard copy?) doesn’t show it then.

  5. Thank you for another interesting post, Lynn. I was always bothered by reoccur when I saw it but I never realized why. Now I understand the distinction. With so many differing resources around setting inconsistent rules it’s hard to say with authority what is “correct” but I will be adding this distinction to our internal style guide.

  6. Thank you for the information and the different reference sources. Wouldn’t the entry from “The Gregg Reference Manual” be considered a pronunciation, rather than punctuation, tip? Thanks again!

  7. Wouldn’t you write “Neither Merriam… NOR The American… ?” Interesting that Canadians would use the words interchangeably. My old Collins Dictionary & Thesaurus (U.K.) makes no mention of reoccur.

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