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I looked up meriam webster and the two definitions seem to semantically largely overlap. the only thing hinting towards the existense of distinctness between the two terms, seemed to be: that the term "aggregation" is claiming certain qualities from the collection of elements. It doesn't suffice to have a group of elements to call them aggregation, there also has to be some other quality inherent to such a collection...

but since I'm far away from being a native speaker, I would appreciate any help.

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  • I thank all three of you for the answers. I would have liked to accept more than one but this does not seem possible. Jun 17 '14 at 20:56
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I think etymology can help understand the original differences between the two terms. As you rightly pointed out aggregation refers mainly to a total considered with reference to its constituent parts; (see the Latin origin of the term):

Examples: an aggregation of believers, of isolated settlements, of species.

accumulation refer more to a collection of several things grouped together or considered as a whole.

Examples: an accumulation of capital, of energy; of evils; of fortunes; of honours; of knowledge, of power; of snow; of waters; of wealth; of wrath.

accumulation(n.)

late 15c., from Latin accumulationem (nominative accumulatio) "a heaping up," noun of action from past participle stem of accumulare "to heap up, amass," from ad- "in addition" (see ad-) + cumulare "heap up," from cumulus "heap" (see cumulus).

aggregation (n.)

early 15c., from Middle French agrégation or directly from Medieval Latin aggregationem (nominative aggregatio), noun of action from past participle stem of Latin aggregare (see aggregate (adj.)).

aggregate (adj.) c.1400, from Latin aggregatus "associated," literally "united in a flock," past participle of aggregare "add to (a flock), lead to a flock, bring together (in a flock)," from ad- "to" (see ad-) + gregare "herd" (see gregarious).

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Accumulation of 1, 2, and 3: 1 + 2 + 3 = 6. From the result (a number), you can't get back the original elements.

Aggregation of 1, 2, and 3: a list of elements 1, 2, and 3. From the result (a list), you can get back the original elements.

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Certainly there's an overlap, but the words have different flavors.

To me, "accumulation" (as in "cumulative") seems more about gathering an increasing number of similar objects: accumulation of wealth, awards etc.

"Aggregation" (as in "gregarious") has more of a connotation of gathering of not necessarily similar objects: as in aggregation of qualities, of accounts etc. It also seems to have a hint of actual spatial proximity ("aggregation of blood platelets" as Google showed me) of the objects being aggregated.

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  • would you say that "spatial proximity" is a quality non-inherent to "accumulations" ? the "not necessarily similar objects" aspect is nice Jun 17 '14 at 17:45
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Accumulation means acquisition or gathering over time, or it is used to refer to the mass that is gathered. Aggregation means gathering different parts together into a unified whole, or it is used to refer to the whole that has been gathered. Both refer to gathering things into a mass, accumulation implies a gradual acquisition over time; aggregation implies a gathering of distinct parts.

"The bucket accumulated two liters of rain water over the course of the week"

"I've aggregated everyone's research into an essay"

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  • could you elaborate onto "unified whole" ? Jun 17 '14 at 17:44
  • By 'unified whole' I mean one consolidated piece. Jun 17 '14 at 17:46
  • what I would like to know is: are there any qualities justifying the perspective of such a collection as a "unified" / "consolidated" "whole". because I hope to find there an answer my mind can accept. Jun 17 '14 at 17:48
  • like for example do certain new qualities emerge in a collection of objects termed "aggregate" that the aggregated objects did not already have. and are these qualities more complex than just the results of repetition: like augmentation of certain measures. Jun 17 '14 at 17:51

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