What would be the word (or phrase) to describe a state that changes consistently and regularly?

Specifically, I'm referring to a type of network connection that turns on and off at regular intervals (and that is the normal and expected working state - not a result of a malfunction).

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    Please can you give us an example sentence, to better understand the context. Commented May 27, 2022 at 10:51
  • In the electronics world, circuits that have 2 stable states are "bistable" or "flip-flop" circuits. Although that implies a response to two alternative input signals. Commented May 27, 2022 at 18:45
  • Does it depend on something, or does it change at random? Variable / stochastic. Commented May 27, 2022 at 21:19
  • Binary frequency shift keying is a similar concept to what you want, but it's for software (not connection states), AFAIK. Plain old frequency might be helpful, but I'd like to see example usage of what you mean. Commented May 28, 2022 at 4:13
  • 1
    The question is too vague. Commented May 28, 2022 at 22:52

6 Answers 6


If it was a continuous value I would suggest oscillate, but on and off seem discrete, so I might suggest switch but that has another meaning in networks.

I considered fluctuate, but that connotes irregularity.

I think the best option is alternate:

Change repeatedly between two contrasting conditions. [Lexico]

So the network connection regularly alternates between on and off.

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    Oscillate would be best since the regularity of change is what we want here. Alternate sounds as if it may change and at a non-regular interval.
    – Elliot
    Commented May 27, 2022 at 14:16
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    Oscillate implies a gradual (i.e. continuous) change, think sine wave, which on/off is not, which is why I didn't select it. Commented May 27, 2022 at 14:21
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    +1 for alternating, as in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternating_current. Commented May 27, 2022 at 20:01
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    This is a great answer - alternates is exactly the word I was looking for. The final phrasing I chose is: "the state of the link alternates at regular intervals".
    – traveh
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 15:51

The system exhibits periodic behaviour.

If you can edit your question to elaborate on the specific example you're trying to describe, you may get better answers.

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    This is the obvious and only answer.
    – TonyK
    Commented May 27, 2022 at 23:54
  • Worth noting that one should be careful to avoid saying the related phrase "the system switches periodically," because in colloquial AmE that means "the system switches every so often," i.e. not regularly or consistently.
    – Drake P
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 18:11
  • @DrakeP Yes, same in BrE, in which sense it is equivalent to "occasionally". If one wanted an adverb, I would just use "regularly".
    – Jivan Pal
    Commented May 29, 2022 at 14:46

I would say that this behavior is "cyclic". In this case, the cycle only has 2 states - on, off, on, off, ....

Other cyclic behaviors can have more states, such as

  • the seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter, ...)
  • traffic lights (green, yellow, red, ...)
  • My first thought was "cyclical". Is there a semantic difference between "cyclic" and "cyclical". Is there a preference based on language variant (I am an AE speaker) or technical field?
    – njuffa
    Commented May 27, 2022 at 20:14
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    So in this case it would be a "bicycle"??
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 27, 2022 at 20:55
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    @njuffa In common parlance, "cyclic" and "cyclical" are synonyms in this sense (happening in cycles), but "cyclical" unambiguously only means this, whereas "cyclic" sees use in various technical contexts to refer to anything evocative of a circle or loop, e.g. cyclic chemical compounds such as benzene, cyclic graphs in graph theory, etc.
    – Jivan Pal
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 0:37
  • In most cases, if you have an "-ic" adjective, sticking another "-al" on it is just useless verbiage. There are few idiomatic counterexamples, like "electric train" or "electric guitar" versus "electrical engineering". The extra suffic on "electrical" adds a measure of distance: electrical engineering is about electricity, not energized by and running on electricity. There seems to be a similar case with cyclic and cyclical. Definitely, you should not go past two suffixes: don't make cyclicalous or cyclicalic. :)
    – Kaz
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 17:00

Intermittent is the usual word for a connection which is expected to be only available some of the time

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    But the Q also said it changes "consistently and regularly". Intermittent is specifically IR-regular -- essentially it means the bad kind of "not all the time". I hear it most commonly for intermittent auto troubles, where it works just fine when the mechanic tries it. Commented May 27, 2022 at 22:11
  • @OwenReynolds the term 'intermittent' is used commonly in networks where the cause of intermittency is predictable, such as low power networks which wake up, transmit, then go back to sleep. 'intermittent' only relates to only being there some of the time, it does not imply regular or irregular behaviour in and of itself. Commented May 28, 2022 at 8:39
  • Also a very good answer (although the one I chose works better for what I needed).
    – traveh
    Commented May 28, 2022 at 15:53

The best term I can think of is "dynamic".

  • a dynamic network connection

(OALD) dynamic adjective
2 (of a process, relationship or system) always changing and making progress


"Like clockwork" seems like a good fit. According to Oxford Learner's, it's an idiom meaning:

go/run like clockwork

  • ​to happen according to plan; to happen without difficulties or problems
  • "The operation went like clockwork."

(as) regular as clockwork:

  • ​very regularly; happening at the same time in the same way
  • "He is home by six every day, regular as clockwork."
  • 1
    Hello, Daevin. No; this speaks of smooth, steady running but not of the oscillation, change brought about in a connected system. Commented May 27, 2022 at 18:59

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