View synonyms for recursive


[ ri-kur-siv ]


  1. pertaining to or using a rule or procedure that can be applied repeatedly.
  2. Mathematics, Computers. pertaining to or using the mathematical process of recursion:

    a recursive function; a recursive procedure.

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Other Words From

  • re·cursive·ly adverb
  • re·cursive·ness noun

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Word History and Origins

Origin of recursive1

First recorded in 1935–40; recurs(ion) + -ive

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Example Sentences

The way that Dan read the Hauser-Chomsky-Fitch paper is language is recursive.

To do that, you need what’s called a recursive procedure—something that allows you to reuse and build things up in larger and larger ways.

It’s just that he thinks the hierarchal structure is flat, and therefore Pirahã doesn’t make use of this massive recursive device.

Study participants were trained to arrange two sets of symbols in recursive patterns.

One of the two animals ended up, on average, more likely to form novel recursive sequences than about three-quarters of the preschoolers and roughly half of the Bolivian villagers.

Since then, a black miasma of recursive vengeance has descended upon Iraq.


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More About Recursive

What does recursive mean?

Something that’s recursive is looped, especially in a way that allows a process to keep repeating.

Recursive has very specific meanings in math, computer programming, and linguistics, but in each case it involves some form of repetition, especially when part of a sequence or formula relies on previous parts. Such a process is called recursion.

Example: The program is recursive: once it finishes its search function, it automatically begins again at the beginning.

Where does recursive come from?

Recursive has been around since at least the late 1700s. It comes from a combination of the Latin recursiōn-, which means “a running back,” and the adjective suffix -ive. Its noun form, recursion, has been recorded since the early 1600s. The -curs- bit in recursive comes from a word meaning to run that also shows up in words like occur. In this way, you can think of recursive as meaning re-running.

Recursive originally just meant “continually repeating,” but by the mid-1900s, it had developed a specialized mathematical sense. The math sense relates to the application of a function to its own values to generate an infinite sequence of values. The equation that gives us the famous Fibonacci sequence is such a process.

From this mathematical usage came the computational application of recursive algorithms: processes that solve a big problem by solving smaller versions of the problem. In linguistics, recursive elements are those that repeat in some pattern. For instance, bad in He’s a bad, bad man is recursive, and so is the noun-verb construction in She said he thought we knew she felt that it was a bad idea.

If you don’t quite understand recursive yet, reading this article again from the beginning would be a good idea (and recursive!).

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What are some other forms of recursive?

What are some synonyms for recursive?

What are some words that share a root or word element with recursive?

What are some words that often get used in discussing recursive?

What are some words recursive may be commonly confused with?

How is recursive used in real life?

Recursive is most often used in the context of computer programming. More generally, it is used to describe situations involving some kind of looping.



Try using recursive!

Which of the following words doesn’t fit with the general meaning of recursive?

A. looping
B. repeating
C. recurrent
D. terminating




recursion formularecursive definition