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The internet seems divided on this one.

Although, e.g., the Merriam-Webster dictionary does not list the word "reoccurring", dictionary.com does list it as a variant of "occur", and the Oxford dictionary even has a separate entry for it.

The Grammarist defines a distinction between "recurring" and "reoccurring" in terms of meaning:

Something that recurs happens repeatedly, perhaps at regular intervals. Something that reoccurs happens again, but not necessarily repeatedly or at regular intervals. For example, the sunrise recurs, and an unpredictable event that happens to occur more than once—such as an earthquake or a financial crisis—reoccurs.

Perhaps this is a difference between American and British English?

  • If it is in a credible dictionary that's not yahoo.com or something like that, most likely, it must be a word somewhere. – RE Lavender Jun 21 '16 at 18:29
  • Yes, it's a word. – GoldenGremlin Jun 21 '16 at 18:31
  • @RELavender Updated to reflect I am also interested in semantics. Additionally, there is also the subquestion pertaining to a difference between American and British English. – Steven Jeuris Jun 21 '16 at 18:41
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    Even if "reoccur" were not found in the dictionary, it still would be a legitimate word, being the word "occur" with the prefix "re-", where "re-" means "repeat" or "again". – Hot Licks Jun 22 '16 at 2:33
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    @StevenJeuris That argument (from the Grammarist comment) is pure and utter nonsense. What would you do with a stem that exists with both prefixes, such as obtain and retain? If you want to say that you obtain something again, you of course re-obtain it; you don’t remove ob- and say that retain suddenly means ‘obtain again’. Besides, as answers to that comment point out, there are dozens of double-prefixed words not only in English, but in Latin itself. And then there are words with three prefixes as well. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 12 '18 at 18:54
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Actually, Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) does have entries for both reoccur and reoccurrence—but it lists them under the entry for the prefix re-, which is where it puts words whose meanings differ from the root word(s) (in this case, occur and occurrence) only in adding "again" to each definition.

The full-size Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961/1986), having far more room to accommodate words of this type, includes the following entries:

recur ... vi recurred; recurred; recurring; recurs ... 1 : to return to a place or status [example omitted] 2 : to have recourse : go for help : RESORT [example omitted] 3 : to go back in thought or discourse [example omitted] 4 : to come up again for consideration : confront one again [example omitted] 5 : to come again to mind : return vividly to the memory [example omitted] 6 : to happen, take place, or appear again : occur again usu. after a stated interval or according to some regular rule [examples omitted] 7 : to repeat itself usu. indefinitely in fixed periods of figures (as of a decimal)

...

reoccur vi {re- + occur} : to occur again

reoccurrence n {re- + occurrence} : a second or another occurrence

From this treatment it seems clear that Merriam-Webster not only considers reoccur to be a real word, but also considers reoccurred, reoccurring, and reoccurs to be real words.

As for the difference in meaning, clearly recur has some unusual meanings that reoccur does not; but reoccur has more meanings than you might suppose from a casual scan of the three-word definition that the Third New International gives for it. Specifically, if it means "to occur again," it can apply to each of the first three general definitions of occur that appear in the entry for that verb—namely,

occur ... vi ... 1 : to be present or met with : EXIST [example omitted] 2 : to present itself : come to pass : take place : HAPPEN [example omitted] 3 : to come to mind : suggest itself [example omitted]

Add "again" to the end of each of those three definitions, and you have a fairly clear picture of what reoccur means according to Merriam-Webster.

I see considerable overlap between MW's definitions 4, 5, and 6 of recur and its implied definitions 1, 2, and 3 of reoccur, although the element of periodicity is certainly far stronger with recur.

2

The Collins Dictionnary agrees with The Grammarist:

reoccur [ˌriːəˈkɜː] vb -curs, -curring, -curred (intr) to happen, take place, or come about again reoccurrence n Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

recur [rɪˈkɜː] vb -curs, -curring, -curred (intr) 1. to happen again, esp at regular intervals 2. (of a thought, idea, etc.) to come back to the mind 3. (of a problem, etc.) to come up again 4. (Mathematics) Maths (of a digit or group of digits) to be repeated an infinite number of times at the end of a decimal fraction [from Latin recurrere, from re- + currere to run] recurring adj recurringly adv Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

Emphasis mine.

And I have heard both used with this distinction.

  • This seems to be a British English dictionary? It does not explicitly list it as such, but there is some indication on the contact us page. This seems to be in line with this possibly not being considered a word in American English? – Steven Jeuris Jun 22 '16 at 8:46
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    It is indeed a British English dictionnary, published in Glasgow by HarperCollins. corporate.harpercollins.co.uk/about-us/history However the Merriam-Webster dictionnary is an American English dictionnary. So based on Sven Yargs' answer, this word exists in both British and American English. – malinconiae Jun 22 '16 at 12:06
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It seems like ‘recurring’ is typically an adjective (I have a recurring injury) while ‘reoccurring’ is typically a verb (This injury reoccurs often). C’mon internet, prove me wrong 😉

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    It’s often impossible to draw the line between a present participle acting as verbally and a present participle acting adjectivally, so there’s no real way to prove you wrong. Recurring does get used as a verb, though (“his words kept recurring to her”), and reoccurring as an adjective (“frequently reoccurring symptoms”). At any rate, I don’t really think this is much of an answer to the question asked. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 12 '18 at 18:48

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