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Recurrent vs. Intermittent: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on November 29, 2023
Recurrent means occurring repeatedly over time, while intermittent refers to something occurring at irregular intervals, stopping and starting at unpredictable times.

Key Differences

Recurrent implies a pattern of repetition, often at regular intervals or under specific conditions. Intermittent suggests a lack of regularity, with occurrences happening sporadically.
The nature of recurrent events or issues is their predictability in terms of reoccurrence. In contrast, intermittent phenomena are characterized by their unpredictability and discontinuity.
A recurrent problem is one that reappears consistently, possibly in a predictable cycle. An intermittent problem, however, arises irregularly and is not continuous.
In medical terms, a recurrent illness reappears after periods of remission, often expectedly. An intermittent symptom, on the other hand, appears and disappears unpredictably.
Recurrent can describe events or actions that are part of a repeating cycle, suggesting some level of consistency. Intermittent events break the flow, occurring sporadically and without a regular pattern.

Comparison Chart


Repeating, possibly at regular intervals
Irregular, with starts and stops


Often predictable


Consistent reoccurrence
Non-continuous, sporadic

Common Usage

In reference to habitual or cyclical events
Describing sporadic or irregular occurrences

Medical Context

Illnesses or symptoms that reappear regularly
Symptoms that occur on and off without pattern

Recurrent and Intermittent Definitions


Continually recurring to the mind.
The idea of changing careers was a recurrent thought.


Occurring at irregular intervals; not continuous or steady.
The village had intermittent power outages.


Persistently repeating in a predictable manner.
He had a recurrent dream about flying.


Acting or done in a way that is not continuous.
Her attendance at the gym was intermittent.


Reappearing or returning periodically.
The recurrent theme in his novels is love.


Sporadic or occurring occasionally.
Intermittent fasting has become a popular diet trend.


Occurring again after intervals or pauses.
Recurrent floods affected the region every year.


Alternately ceasing and beginning again.
He experienced intermittent internet connectivity.


Occurring or appearing again or repeatedly.


Stopping and starting at intervals.


(Anatomy) Turning in a reverse direction. Used of blood vessels and nerves.


Alternately containing and empty of water
An intermittent lake.


Recurring; happening time after time.
The patient complained of recurrent chest pain.


Stopping and starting, occurring, or presenting at intervals; coming after a particular time span.
The day was cloudy with intermittent rain.
Intermittent bugs are most difficult to reproduce.




Existing only for certain seasons; that is, being dry for part of the year.
The area has many intermittent lakes and streams.


(anatomy) Running back toward its origin.
A recurrent nerve or artery


An intermittent fever or disease.


(entomology) Turned back toward the base.


Coming and going at intervals; alternating; recurrent; periodic; as, an intermittent fever.


Returning from time to time; recurring; as, recurrent pains.


An intermittent fever or disease.


Running back toward its origin; as, a recurrent nerve or artery.


Stopping and starting at irregular intervals;
Intermittent rain showers


Recurring again and again;
Perennial efforts to stipulate the requirements


Stopping and starting at regular intervals


Happening repeatedly over a period of time.
She experienced recurrent headaches.


Is "recurrent" always associated with negative events?

Not necessarily. It can describe any event or condition, positive or negative, that happens repeatedly.

Can "recurrent" describe a medical condition?

Yes, it's often used to describe medical conditions that reappear after a period of remission.

What does "recurrent" mean?

"Recurrent" refers to something happening repeatedly, often at regular intervals.

Is "recurrent" a technical term?

It can be used in both technical and everyday contexts.

What is the noun form of "recurrent"?

"Recurrence" is the noun form.

How is "recurrent" used in a sentence?

Example: "She had recurrent dreams about flying."

Can "recurrent" describe positive experiences?

Yes, it can describe any repeated experience, like recurrent celebrations.

Is "recurrent" used in psychology?

Yes, it's used to describe recurring patterns of behavior or thought.

Does "recurrent" imply a regular pattern?

While it suggests repetition, it doesn't always imply a regular or predictable pattern.

Does "intermittent" always mean stopping completely?

Not always. It can also mean reducing in intensity or frequency.

What is a synonym for "recurrent"?

"Recurring" is a common synonym.

How is "intermittent" used in a sentence?

Example: "He experienced intermittent headaches."

What is the noun form of "intermittent"?

"Intermittence" or "intermittency."

Can "intermittent" describe weather patterns?

Yes, like intermittent rain.

What is a synonym for "intermittent"?

"Sporadic" is a synonym.

What does "intermittent" mean?

"Intermittent" refers to something occurring at irregular intervals; not continuous or steady.

Is "intermittent" used in medicine?

Yes, to describe symptoms or conditions that stop and start over time.

Does "intermittent" imply unpredictability?

It implies a lack of regularity, but not necessarily unpredictability.

Is "intermittent" a technical term?

It's used in various fields, from medicine to engineering.

Can "intermittent" refer to work or activities?

Yes, like intermittent fasting or intermittent employment.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited 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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