What's the difference between regime and regimen?

  • 2
    +1. I was just wondering about "Loss of regimen" right now, because of this comic: theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home – Jonik Aug 25 '10 at 20:40
  • ... that's what inspired me to ask this question :) – Noel M Aug 25 '10 at 20:48

A regime usually refers to a system of government.

A regimen is a plan that one adheres to (i.e. regimented).

People misuse regime a lot of the time when they mean regimen, especially relating to diets.

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Generally speaking, the two words have the same ultimate etymology, from Latin regimin, meaning “position of authority, direction, set of rules”. In many cases, either word can be used, and their meanings have substantial overlap:

1 a : regimen1 b : a regular pattern of occurrence or action (as of seasonal rainfall) c : the characteristic behavior or orderly procedure of a natural phenomenon or process
2 a : mode of rule or management b : a form of government <a socialist regime> c : a government in power d : a period of rule

1 a : a systematic plan (as of diet, therapy, or medication) especially when designed to improve and maintain the health of a patient b : a regular course of action and especially of strenuous training <the daily regimen of athletes> 2 : government, rule 3 : regime 1c

The definitions reference each other in several places reflecting the substantial overlap in the two words’ meanings. However, the two words are frequently used differently, so let’s look at what collocates (frequent neighbor words) using the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

These words most commonly appear before regimen (function words like the excluded)

DAILY       65
WORKOUT     39
DRUG        38
FITNESS     36
STRICT      33
MEDICAL     24

Whereas these words commonly appear before regime:

MILITARY       449
COMMUNIST      383
IRAQI          232
OLD            200
TALIBAN        145
CASTRO         139
NAZI           139

From these results we can see clearly that sense 2 of regime, the one having to do with government, is the most salient one for that word (at least when it is used with an attributive). However, if we look up the frequent collocates for regimen with regime, we do find some (albeit fewer) results:

DAILY       4
DRUG        6
STRICT      8

From this we can conclude that indeed the sense of regime meaning “a systematic plan” or “regular course of action” is also a current usage, and not one that merits criticism for being a “misuse”.

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  • 1
    I'm glad @Robusto has just tickled this old question, which predates me joining ELU. This is an excellent clear and thorough answer, so I welcome the chance to upvote it in hopes that when future visitors see it, they'll be just a little bit more aware of there being more support for your/our position than there is for the (disappointingly, accepted) answer with that drivel about People misuse regime a lot of the time when they mean regimen (I'll go lie down now until my enraged apoplexy subsides! :) – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '13 at 1:47

In US English,

  • 'a regime change' is, for example, a coup/junta/putsch in a government

  • 'a regimen change' is, for example, eating more yogurt.

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  • The OED notes that “Regimen rather than regime is now the usual word in the United States and in Med[icine].; in British English regime is more usual.” – tchrist Jan 7 '18 at 1:59

'Regimen' is all but unheard of in Australian English either. We use 'regime', whether it's exercise, diet, military or government contexts.

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The word regimen is all but unheard of in the UK and British English.

Regime is the correct term in the UK in all contexts.

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