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Calcitrant vs. Recalcitrant: What's the Difference?

By Harlon Moss & Aimie Carlson || Updated on May 22, 2024
Calcitrant means stubbornly resistant, while recalcitrant also means stubborn but often implies a defiance against authority or control.

Key Differences

Calcitrant refers to a person or behavior that is obstinately uncooperative. It is derived from the Latin "calcitrare," meaning to kick. This term is less commonly used in modern English but still denotes a high degree of stubbornness. Recalcitrant, on the other hand, is more frequently used to describe someone or something that resists authority or control. It also comes from the Latin "recalcitrare," meaning to kick back. This term often carries a connotation of defiance against an established power or rule.
Both terms share a common Latin root and essentially describe similar behavior. However, recalcitrant is more commonly used today, especially in formal and legal contexts. Calcitrant might be perceived as more archaic or poetic.
Calcitrant may be used to describe everyday stubbornness without necessarily implying opposition to authority. In contrast, recalcitrant is specifically used to highlight resistance to control or rules.
Using calcitrant in modern language might give the speech or text a classical or literary tone. Recalcitrant, with its more common usage, is often found in discussions of legal or organizational non-compliance.
Calcitrant can be seen as a broader term for stubbornness, whereas recalcitrant is more specific, often implying a willful and active defiance.

Comparison Chart

Common Usage

Rarely used
Frequently used


General stubbornness
Defiance against authority

Modern Context

Archaic, poetic
Formal, legal, organizational


Broader term
More specific


Classical, literary
Common, everyday usage

Calcitrant and Recalcitrant Definitions


Stubbornly defiant.
She remained calcitrant despite the evidence.


Hard to deal with.
The recalcitrant problem required innovative solutions.


Obstinately uncooperative.
His calcitrant attitude made negotiations difficult.


Defiant and unmanageable.
The recalcitrant prisoner caused trouble.


Unyielding in opinion.
He was calcitrant about his beliefs.


The recalcitrant witness refused to testify.


Refusing to budge.
The calcitrant mule wouldn't move.


Resistant to authority.
The recalcitrant teenager defied school rules.


Resistant to change.
The calcitrant employee resisted new policies.


Disobedient to rules.
The recalcitrant company ignored regulations.


Stubborn; refractory


Stubbornly resistant to or defiant of authority or guidance.


Kicking. Hence: Stubborn; refractory.


Difficult to manage or deal with
A recalcitrant problem.


Resistant to chemical decomposition; decomposing extremely slowly.


A recalcitrant person.


Marked by a stubborn unwillingness to obey authority.


Unwilling to cooperate socially.


Difficult to deal with or to operate.


Not viable for an extended period; damaged by drying or freezing.


A person who is recalcitrant.


Kicking back; recalcitrating; hence, showing repugnance or opposition; refractory.


Marked by stubborn resistance to and defiant of authority or guidance;
A recalcitrant teenager
Everything revolves around a refractory individual genius


Marked by stubborn resistance to authority;
The University suspended the most recalcitrant demonstrators


Is calcitrant commonly used?

Calcitrant is rarely used in modern English.

How is recalcitrant different from calcitrant?

Recalcitrant implies defiance against authority, whereas calcitrant refers to general stubbornness.

What does calcitrant mean?

Calcitrant means stubbornly resistant or uncooperative.

Is recalcitrant always about authority?

Typically, yes, it implies resistance to control or rules.

In what contexts is recalcitrant used?

Recalcitrant is often used in legal, formal, or organizational contexts.

Is calcitrant used in legal language?

Rarely, it's more poetic or archaic.

Does recalcitrant have a negative connotation?

Yes, it generally implies a negative resistance to authority.

Can calcitrant be used to describe animals?

Yes, e.g., The calcitrant horse refused to move.

Can recalcitrant describe objects?

Yes, e.g., The recalcitrant software refused to function properly.

Is recalcitrant formal or informal?

Formal, often used in official or legal documents.

What is the origin of calcitrant?

Derived from Latin "calcitrare," meaning to kick.

Can recalcitrant describe a situation?

Yes, e.g., The recalcitrant crisis was hard to manage.

How to use recalcitrant in a sentence?

E.g., The recalcitrant employee was difficult to supervise.

Are calcitrant and recalcitrant interchangeable?

Not exactly; recalcitrant is more specific to authority defiance.

Is there a synonym for calcitrant?

Stubborn or obstinate.

What is the origin of recalcitrant?

Also from Latin "recalcitrare," meaning to kick back.

What type of tone does calcitrant convey?

Classical or literary.

Can calcitrant be a compliment?

Generally no, it implies stubbornness.

How to use calcitrant in a sentence?

E.g., The calcitrant student refused to do his homework.

What type of tone does recalcitrant convey?

Common, everyday language often used formally.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Co-written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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