The Grammarphobia Blog

One word too many

Q: I don’t understand why we use the word “reiterate” so often when “iterate” means to repeat something. Any thoughts? (Don’t get me started on the phrase “reiterate again”!)

A: The term “iterate,” as you point out, means to say or perform again. It comes from the Latin iterare, meaning to repeat. The word “reiterate” also means to say or do again.

Although both words are standard English and both mean to repeat, “reiterate” is far more common and more likely to be understood. That’s a good enough reason for it to get my vote.

How did we end up with one word too many? Barbara Wallraff, in her “Word Court” column in The Atlantic magazine, blames the French. They got confused first, in the 14th century, and confused English-speakers with their verb reiterer.

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