Rains have helped recoup lost water.


I would like to recoup lost time.

It seems to me that recoup is to regain something, thus lost would either be implied, or inclusive. So would saying "recoup lost ..." act like a double-negative, in that you're actually re-losing [something]?

I guess I am wondering if it is more proper to say:

Rains have helped recoup water.


I would like to recoup time.

  • 1
    Because of the nature of time, you can't really recoup, regain, recover it once it's gone. You're more likely to make up for lost time (i.e. - use some of the "new" time now moving from the future into the present, to do things you should have done with the "old" time before it became the past). Jun 25, 2013 at 22:17
  • @FumbleFingers technically that is correct, but time isn't something you want to be technical about as it's easy to lose your position. Given your example, you can't really make up for it. You can try to explain that you increase your level of productivity/efficiency, but even that is arguable when propped against this predicament we call time. The same argument can be made when referring to any point in time, since nothing can really "change" it can only be and we can try to draw conclusions when comparing this state of being to that. The only thing we can truly control is our attitude
    – vol7ron
    Jun 26, 2013 at 14:42
  • 1
    If you play around in Google Books looking for things like will/would/might recoup/regain/recover time / lost time, I think you'll agree that people tend to avoid just bare "time" in such constructions. Qualifying it as "lost time", for example, is very common. I stand by my rationale that people know perfectly well they're not trying to recover the actual time wasted, which is now irretrievably consigned to the past. By calling it "lost time", you clarify that you're talking about a component within a plan, not a now-inaccessible section of the space-time continuum. Jun 26, 2013 at 16:19
  • I like that :-)
    – vol7ron
    Jun 26, 2013 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


One definition of recoup is indeed "to regain." As Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1986) puts it:

3: to get back: REGAIN ["an attempt to recoup his fortunes" —W.J. Ghent]

But another—and according to Webster's, earlier—definition has a different tendency:

2a: to make good (as expenses, losses) ["this is largely recouped to states from taxes" —John Kemp] : to make up for ["recouped their losses"]

The relevant version or portion of definition 2a for our purposes is "to make up for": You may lose water or lose time, but you can make up for those losses literally (by collecting water to replace the lost quantity) or figuratively (by making better use of your time going forward). In both instances, "recoup lost X" is not redundant or self-cancelling, any more than "compensate for lost X" is.

Incidentally, the "John Kemp" cited in the quotation associated with the first part of definition 2a is, I believe, the guy much better known to longtime U.S. football fans and Congress watchers as "Jack Kemp."

  • I've selected this as the answer, as it addresses my concern of the word, lost; however, I'd argue that it's not the same as compensate for.
    – vol7ron
    Jun 26, 2013 at 14:54

Recoup means

1.to regain or make good (a financial or other loss)

2.tr to reimburse or compensate (someone), as for a loss

3.(law) to keep back (something due), having rightful claim to do so; withhold; deduct

While the term is often used in a gambling context, it can just as easily refer to an investment. Expenses are recouped even though they were not lost.

  • Interesting, but I'm not sure I agree. The definition is generally to regain, not gain; thus, it's implied you already had it and not that you are obtaining it for the first time. While lost could mean it cannot be located, the maning can be extended to something once had, but no longer. Thus if you have money for expenses, it is lost once you pay for it.
    – vol7ron
    Jun 26, 2013 at 14:50

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