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What's the difference between "successive" and "consecutive"?

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Having just answered one of your "difference between" questions, I wonder why you keep up this rapid-fire posting of questions about words you could easily look up in a dictionary. – Robusto Nov 28 '10 at 14:19
Interesting - 13 'Whats the difference?' questions out of 17 in total... – CJM Nov 28 '10 at 14:41
My main (and probably only) objection to these recent questions is that I feel they are not tagged sufficiently. I think they should all have the "word-choice" tag, as I recently argued on meta (see also Kosmonaut's comment on that answer of mine), and the appropriate part-of-speech tag. – RegDwigнt Nov 28 '10 at 15:30
No problem. From now on I'll be using that tag too in such questions and if it's possible I will add this tag to those similar ones that I have already asked. I am still quite new here and don't know how to chose correct tag for questions , as well as many other things. – brilliant Nov 28 '10 at 15:40
See also the related discussion on Meta: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/454/… – Steve Melnikoff Nov 30 '10 at 16:02
up vote 4 down vote accepted

First note that successive appears as a synonym of consecutive in dictionaries. (see Merriam Webster's entry here).

Now compare these examples that I chose at random and extracted from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):


  • "his unprecedented string of consecutive appearances"
  • "has own the best actor Emmy two consecutive times"
  • "named person of the year for the second consecutive time"
  • "account balance remains overdrawn for seven consecutive days"
  • "the Irish made six consecutive NCAA Tournaments"


  • "on successive laps, Chris passed three cars"
  • "analysts say that successive governments failed to"
  • "dramatic walk-off style in successive victories against the Seattle Mariners"
  • "simultaneous and successive cognitive processes"
  • "who have challenged successive military governments"

Here is what I observe in the examples (I hope I was lucky in my random choice of them):

In the examples that use consecutive, the fact that the events happened in a row without interruption seems to be something that the author wanted to emphasize.

However, in the examples that use successive, the fact that the events occur after each other with no interruption seems to play a secondary role. Notice that you can remove successive from some of these sentences and the meaning is not affected too much. If you remove consecutive, the impact is in general higher.

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Thank you, Bruno!! I think You hit the mark and shed the light on question that has bugged me for so long. (And yes, of course I knew that the two words were synonymous in such dictionaries like Merriam Webster). – brilliant Nov 29 '10 at 11:31
Your penultimate paragraph is the key: the difference between consecutive and successive is that the former implies an unbroken sequence, while the latter does not. – Marthaª Nov 30 '10 at 19:59
Do you think then that the following question sounds okay: "Is it grammatically correct to have two consecutive gerunds in one sentence?" Or does is sound too formal? How would you phrase it? – brilliant Dec 3 '10 at 21:28
@brilliant, your question sounds okay. But I think you would then have to provide an example, otherwise it would not be clear what exactly you were asking. – b.roth Dec 4 '10 at 7:09
@Bruno Rothgiesser: Thank you. Example (just in case) would be something like "Keeping smoking while having a lung cancer is suicide" – brilliant Dec 4 '10 at 8:16

I think there isn't any difference in denotation. I suspect that "successive" is more apt to be used in a casual nontechnical context, and "consecutive" when the subject involves math or is otherwise technical.

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Successive relates to two whereas consecutive involves more than two.

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What is the source of this 'information'? – Kris Nov 17 '13 at 8:53

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