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What's the difference between “successive” and “consecutive”?

Are 'consecutively' and 'successively' the same? Can they be used in place of each other freely? Does 'for 3 days consecutively..' and 'for 3 days successively..' mean the same ?

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marked as duplicate by b.roth, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, Marthaª, Uticensis, Rhodri Apr 8 '11 at 17:02

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3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Overall, yes consecutively and successively are equivalent.

On closer examination, there is a slight difference though. In consecutively, there is no gap. In successively there is just some order.

For instance "in close/short succession" is sometimes preferred to "in succession" to emphasize consecutiveness.

For instance:

  • 1, 2 and 3 are consecutive numbers

  • 1, 2 and 4 are successive numbers but they are not consecutive.

So for non discrete quantities you would probably prefer "successive" (as in "successive events") and for discrete quantities with no gaps you could use "consecutive" as in "2 consecutive days".

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Thanks. It makes sense. 'quick succession' is another phrase which emphasises consecutiveness. –  amit Apr 8 '11 at 12:21
    
Good answer. Addresses some of the subtleties that I left out. (+1) –  Karl Apr 8 '11 at 12:31

I would quite confidently say that there is no difference; they both mean to follow in an uninterrupted order and to follow closely after another.

Interestingly:

Latin 'consectus' means 'followed closely'

Latin 'success' means 'followed closely'

Hope this helps

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Thanks Karl for the Latin meanings. I think the difference is just common usage and what we get used to hearing. E.g 'its been raining for 3 days consecutively' is more common than 'its been raining for 3 days successively'. –  amit Apr 8 '11 at 12:13
    
Yes, @amit. I completely agree. Likewise, I would normally talk of 'consecutive' numbers rather than 'successive'. Like you say, I think it seems to have more to do with commonality than anything official. –  Karl Apr 8 '11 at 12:26
    
+1 for the Latin ;-) –  Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 8 '11 at 12:51
3  
Disagree. Alain is correct in his answer above, i.e., "1,2,3" vs "1,2,4." The etymology is immaterial. –  The Raven Apr 8 '11 at 12:56

They have the same meaning and are both adverbs, but consecutively stresses immediacy in following and implies that no interruption or interval occurs:

four consecutive days

Successively may apply to things of the same kind or class that follow each other regardless of length of interval between:

four successive weekends

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