I saw "recent past" included in a page of supposed oxymorons posted on Facebook, with people yukking it up while apparently badly misunderstanding what an oxymoron is. One well-meaning but confused gentleman pointed me to a link to a different page also claiming that "recent past" is an oxymoron.

This seems ultra-simple to me: the two words have to be in apparent conflict, but they're simply not. I tried to give a helpful example (having gone to the store yesterday) but think the people arguing with me may still not understand.

Am I wrong?

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    If recent cannot be in the present or future, when would recent things occur if not the past, but, er, the recent past? You are not wrong, you are right. Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 3:15
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    Maybe, perhaps, you might considerer that as redundant within some special context. In general, that's not even redundant, only more explicit. The past that you are referring to can be distant, one million years ago, or recent, only a few years ago. How is this redundant or oxymoronic? Occam's razor: Some people don't understand the words they are using, such as oxymoron. Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 3:24
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    In fact, in English we don't say "recent future", we say near future and in the not too distant future. And would they find the following phrase oxymoronic: "D.Trump recently visited France."
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 3:49
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    I think it could be considered a pleonasm rather than an oxymoron, based on the fact that something that happened recently obviously happened in the past, the issue not being about recently modifying past but rather about past being applied while we already know an event was in the past because of the presence of recent. This would, imho, only make sense if recent could be used instead of recent past, which it can't.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 10:51
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    The real oxymoron is intelligent facebook discussion...
    – corsiKa
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 22:06

5 Answers 5


No. You are correct. It is both common and acceptable to qualify the past as the distant past or the recent past.

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    You aren't wrong, but this answer would be much stronger with any kind of evidence or sources. I doubt a bare assertion is going to do it for the folks who genuinely think this is an oxymoron.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 12:28
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    @1006a, OP said this came out of a Facebook post. Have you ever tried to convince someone on Facebook they were wrong? No amount of evidence or sources will help. :)
    – user247088
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 13:39
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    @tilper I didn't mean the OP's nemeses, I meant anyone who is genuinely wondering and turns to ELU for a definitive answer. We're supposed to be creating answers that are generally applicable/helpful, not just reassuring a single asker that what he/she already knew is correct. Even a few dictionary definitions would be a big improvement, and a few lines of text explaining how those definitions apply to this phrase would be great.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 13:58
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    I do believe I left a comment earlier this morning asking the OP to consider explaining why, but for some mysterious reason, users must have flagged it and it was deleted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 14:13
  • I agree that sources would help. I couldn't think of them at the time and still can't; as I recall I was answering from the usage I'm familiar with. We say distant future and distant past, and we say near future but recent past. So, dear community, edit some useful stuff into my answer and I'll mark it community-wiki.
    – Mathieu K.
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 4:14

You are correct about usage: it is not an oxymoron, because "recent" and "past" are not in opposition. The word "past" in that phrase is, to an extent, redundant. An oxymoron would be an instance of two words whose meanings suggest each other's opposite, or at least significantly dissimilar concepts. As a comment suggests, a phrase containing some redundancy such as "recent past" might be called a pleonasm, though I don't think it's a common term in regular conversation.

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    @Clare How can something that happened "recently" ever not be in the past? Please don't mistake my use of the term "redundant" to imply "incorrect" - the phrase is a common one that I use myself and there is certainly more information provided by putting the words together. I'm just suggesting that some of the information in the word past is already implied by the word recent - hence, some redundancy. Regardless, I have edited my answer for some clarification and less strong wording. Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 16:01
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    It's not redundant because you can't talk about the past with just the word recent, and you can't distinguish between the recent past and the distant past without the word recent. Just like near future and distant future are also not redundant. How will you talk about the near future without using both words, and still fully specify what you mean? I think you might be a little confused...
    – ErikE
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:15
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    Okay, if I say, "I went to the store recently," it is clearly an event that happened in the past. Thus, "I went to the store in the recent past" is a redundant way of saying "I went to the store recently". When I said "There is clearly more information provided by putting the words together" I was referring to the equivalent of adding "-ly" to "recent" (more than that, but I'm trying to keep this explanation simple). Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:32
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    @ErikE: Semantically, "recent past" is redundant, because "past" isn't supplying any further information beyond what "recent" supplies. "Past" is only needed because it fills a syntactic role. When another noun fills that role, "past" is not needed: hence e.g. "in recent weeks" (no need for "in past recent weeks" or "in recent weeks past" or whatnot).
    – ruakh
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 1:00
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    "The recent events in Oceania..." would be another example to show how "recent" can be used sensibly without requiring "past". Also, I would not consider "recent" and "recently" to be entirely different words; they are different forms of the same word. They have the same core meaning and differ only in the way they are allowed to be used with other words. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 1:39

I cannot see why it is wrong to modify the noun past with the adjective recent. It conveys to me the idea of a time neither recent nor in the remote or undetermined past but somewhere in between.


"recent past" as compared to "distant past".

Both are "past", but "recent" is closer to present than "distant". So both "recent" and "distant" are valid qualifiers for "past", so not an oxymoron.


I do not know what a facebook is but but it must have been written by morons if it says that 'recent past' is an oxymoron. As you are no doubt aware, Italian names two past tenses with the recent and distant (historic) distinction: passato remoto and passato prossimo.

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