in·​cur | \ in-ˈkər How to pronounce incur (audio) \
incurred; incurring

Definition of incur

transitive verb

: to become liable or subject to : bring down upon oneself incur expenses

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Incur vs. Occur

Incur bears a strong family resemblance to another English verb, occur. If you are confused by their similarities, a glance back at their Latin roots might help you to tell them apart.

Both words have a common root in Latin currere, meaning “to run.” In the case of incur, currere was combined with Latin in “into,” which produced the meaning “to run into.” In English, the one who incurs, or “runs into,” is most often a person and the thing incurred is usually some self-inflicted negative consequence (such as a debt or somebody’s foul temper). The ancestor of occur, by contrast, paired Latin ob “in the way” with currere, producing the basic meaning “to run in the way of,” or “to present itself.” In English, the verb came to apply strictly to events, things, or ideas; something (such as a tornado) that occurs, or “presents itself,” appears or happens; a thought that occurs, or “presents itself” to someone, comes into that person’s mind.

To summarize: a person (or something composed of people, like a company) incurs, or becomes subject to, something negative; something occurs, or happens, or an idea occurs to, or comes into the mind of, someone.

Examples of incur in a Sentence

Submitting students to the rigors of learning seemed only to incur the wrath of many of them … — Ben Marcus, Time, 8 Jan. 2001 Shakespeare … took plots and characters from wherever he pleased, rarely acknowledging sources, and he saw so little sanctity in his own words that anyone could print them who cared to incur the expense—which did not include royalties to Shakespeare. — Walter Kendrick, New York Times Book Review, 29 Oct. 1989 To be too good-looking is sometimes to incur the dislike, if not the hatred, of the ordinary-looking. — Joseph Epstein, The Middle of My Tether, 1983 What did he do to incur such wrath?
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Recent Examples on the Web Ford executives cautioned that the company would incur significant financial challenges in the second half of the year. Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press, "Ford's surprise: $1.9 billion earnings loss is good news," 30 July 2020 The American Chinese restaurant is cutting out the middleman in deliveries so its guests will not incur additional fees typically found on third-party apps. Josh Rivera, USA TODAY, "Panda Express launches delivery service as it cuts the Uber Eats, Postmastes middleman," 18 June 2020 Clapman said that may force some women to wait months to get a second appointment and incur additional costs. Washington Post, "Iowa governor signs abortion law amid court challenge," 29 June 2020 The remaining 70% will be used to reimburse expenses the smaller communities incur because of the virus. Leon Stafford, ajc, "South metro Atlanta communities to get $30 million to fight COVID-19," 29 June 2020 Spending, meanwhile, increased to $55 million as Cleveland began to incur service needs brought on by the coronavirus. Robert Higgs, cleveland, "Mayor Frank Jackson says Cleveland won’t lay off workers -- for now; budget $4.5M in red from coronavirus," 24 June 2020 Past claims for reparations have relied on the notion that people were wrongly deprived of income or property, or were unfairly forced to incur costs. The Economist, "Forty acres and a mule The economics of reparations," 20 June 2020 If interest rates go back up to their pre-pandemic levels, that same loan would incur finance charges of $8,404. Washington Post, "Edmunds: Shoppers should think twice about long-term loans," 17 June 2020 As a result, violators of the stay-at-home orders can incur punishments which vary by state. Sarah Lynch, USA TODAY, "Fact check: Stay-at-home and other state emergency orders are not unlawful," 12 June 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'incur.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of incur

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for incur

Middle English incurren, from Latin incurrere, literally, to run into, from in- + currere to run — more at car

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Time Traveler for incur

Time Traveler

The first known use of incur was in the 15th century

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Statistics for incur

Last Updated

3 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Incur.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for incur


How to pronounce incur (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of incur

formal : to cause yourself to have or experience (something unpleasant or unwanted)


in·​cur | \ in-ˈkər How to pronounce incur (audio) \
incurred; incurring

Kids Definition of incur

: to experience as a result of a person's own actions Because of his behavior he incurred suspicion.
in·​cur | \ in-ˈkər How to pronounce incur (audio) \
incurred; incurring

Legal Definition of incur

: to become liable or subject to : bring down upon oneself incur obligations incur expenses

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More from Merriam-Webster on incur

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for incur

Spanish Central: Translation of incur

Nglish: Translation of incur for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of incur for Arabic Speakers

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