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I've heard before that there is an actual distinction between the two. To "agree", as I understand it, is to believe that that a person's decision, opinion, or what have you is correct.

To "concur", on the other hand, would mean that you came to the same opinion/conclusion on your own.

For example, after Susan broke up with me, Dave and Bill independently came to the conclusion that it happened because she walked in on me wearing her underwear. As such, they concurred. On the other hand, although I initially had no idea what drove her to break my heart, once Bill and Dave explained how my actions were not socially acceptable I was inclined to believe their assessment was correct. Hence, I agreed with them.

Does anyone know if this is an actual dictionary difference? Or do "agree" and "concur" legitimately have the same meaning?

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    Have you looked in the dictionary? – Jim Jun 12 '17 at 3:20
  • Those are not of the same register. – tchrist Jun 12 '17 at 3:21
  • @Jim I have, and they constantly make it seem the same. Like when I search for a definition on google – Bryyo Jun 12 '17 at 3:24
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    To my ear 'concur' in your first example sounds odd. I'd say that to concur is to 'say you agree'. Also, it seems to me that only people concur whereas agreement is possible between things other than people (ideas, statements, figures). – Steve Lovell Jun 12 '17 at 4:52
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    Just turned up this: english.stackexchange.com/questions/47399/agree-vs-concur, which is at least a near duplicate. One of the answers (admittedly not the accepted one) agrees with me (or do they concur?) that to concur is to express agreement. So one could agree without concurring, but not vice-versa. – Steve Lovell Jun 12 '17 at 7:31
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"Concur" implies a stated agreement with an opinion, whereas agreement by itself need not be expressed, nor need it be with an opinion. I can agree with someone's feelings about something, but not concur with their feelings. Also, "concur" is much more likely to have a singular subject -- I concur more often than we concur. Further, we can agree with each other, whereas we cannot concur with each other.

Legally, "concur" has the meaning of a written opinion.

Thus, as well as the already noted register difference, there's also a distinct difference in how the terms function syntactically.

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The basic definitions in the major dictionaries are pretty useless for differentiating the difference. They generally define one in terms of the other. However, M-W has a discussion of the difference. Excerpt:

agree, concur [and coincide] mean to come into or be in harmony regarding a matter of opinion. Agree implies complete accord usually attained by discussion and adjustment of differences. ⟨on some points we all can agree⟩. Concur often implies approval of someone else's statement or decision. ⟨if my wife concurs, it's a deal⟩

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I will change the example slightly, for clarity's sake, mostly.

A: After Susan broke up with me, Dave and Bill independently came to the conclusion that it happened because I had betrayed her trust. As such, they concurred.

B: After Susan broke up with me, Dave and Bill independently came to the conclusion that it happened because I had betrayed her trust. As such, they agreed.

Sentence B doesn't work, because we don't know whom they agreed with. You would have to say

B': After Susan broke up with me, Dave and Bill independently came to the conclusion that it happened because I had betrayed her trust. As such, they agreed with each other.

So, right there, you have a difference between the two words. In Sentence A, you can get away with just saying "they concurred," rather than "they concurred with each other."

And yes, there is definitely a sophistication factor. "I concur" does sound fancier than "I agree." "I agree" sounds more like a knee-jerk reaction than "I concur." "I concur" suggests there's been an analytical process that resulted in the opinion being expressed.

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As @tchrist notes in a comment, concur and agree are "not of the same register."

Wikipedia defines register as follows:

In linguistics, a register is a variety of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting.

Although linguists concur that registers are an important aspect of language, they do not entirely agree on their definitions of different registers. Registers are considered to express degree of formality.

A Google NGram search for "concur with" and "agree with" shows that the latter is far more common (perhaps 60 to 100 times more common); "concur" is almost nonexistent in English fiction.

Google NGram

The types of books in which "concur" occurs are Congressional and Parliamentary debates, formal histories and academic studies, and legal documents. For example:

The speech of James Stephen, Esq., in the debate in the House of Commons, 1809

I cannot concur with him, however, in his present proposition; I cannot consent that we should conciliate America at the expense of rescinding our Orders in Council on the terms proposed by her . . .

Here's an example of the two terms in one document or study of U.S. telecommunications:

Telecommunications: Agencies are Generally Following Sound ... https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1437909043 Linda D. Koontz - 2009 Homeland Security agreed with two and disagreed with five of the seven recommendations directed toward the department, and it did not concur with one finding. The department agreed with our recommendations that it establish goals and ..

The term "partially concurs" also occurs in this formal register.

My general impression is that "concur" is viewed as a little softer than "agree"--an acceptance of a position rather than all-out positive agreement.

Wikipedia: Register (sociolinguistics)

  • That last little bit where you said "'concur' is viewed as a little softer than "agree"--an acceptance of a position rather than all-out positive agreement" to me almost sounds like a reversal of what I originally thought. Whereas I thought "agree" means accept someone else's POV and "concur" means come to the same conclusion on your own, it seems like you're saying you might "concur" after being persuaded whereas your "agreeing" views were perhaps formed independently. Is this fair? – Bryyo Jun 12 '17 at 7:07
  • Also, it seems like "register" dictates when it might be customary to use a word, but it doesn't really tell anything about the meaning behind the word. My point being, although "agree" is more abundantly used than "concur", that doesn't mean "agree" is always used properly by its strictest definition. Would you agree with that? – Bryyo Jun 12 '17 at 7:13
  • See the recently posted link to a duplicate question. Posters there are not in entire agreement on this. If I'd seen it, I wouldn't have written my answer. – Xanne Jun 12 '17 at 8:31

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