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 Even without the new tranche of tariffs, US clothing and footwear imports have historically incurred higher duties than other consumer goods. Marc Bain, Quartzy, "Even the Trump trade war is sexist," 26 Aug. 2019 In exchange for that work product, ALDOT will pay each team up to $2 million, but not more than their reasonable, out-of-pocket costs incurred in developing that work product. John Sharp |, al, "Losing bidders on I-10 project will get up to $2 million in reimbursements," 15 Aug. 2019 The city also argued that the denial of the ordinance causes harm to the city which incurred costs to implement it, and the public. Hayat Norimine, Dallas News, "Dallas city attorney responds to paid sick leave lawsuit, wants new judge in case," 14 Aug. 2019 But the Times notes that US firms will likely won’t be effective, as such companies won’t want to incur legal trouble from breaking the law. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "China warned tech companies of consequences for cooperating with US ban," 8 June 2019 The bulk of these losses are more likely to be incurred in warmer, poorer regions such as India and Africa, the study found. Stephen Leahy, National Geographic, "A warming Arctic could cost the world trillions of dollars," 23 Apr. 2019 For many large brands, such as top luxury labels, the show can be quite literally a marketing expense incurred to sell more fragrances, accessories, and leather goods such as handbags. Marc Bain, Quartzy, "Do fashion weeks still have a purpose?," 7 Sep. 2019 Expenses incurred in ward offices, such as utility bills, were paid without a list of who paid the bills or were reimbursed for services not contemplated by council’s policies (fax lines and internet services). Robert Higgs,, "Cleveland council President Kevin Kelley vows to tighten rules after audit finds members expenses were approved despite incomplete reports," 27 Aug. 2019 Up to $3 million for the reimbursement of reasonable costs and expenses incurred in connection with the litigation. Michelle Singletary, Washington Post, "Lawyers representing consumers in the Equifax settlement could get up to $77.5 million. Is that fair?," 8 Aug. 2019

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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Statistics for incur

Last Updated

4 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for incur

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

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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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with incur

Spanish Central: Translation of incur

Nglish: Translation of incur for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of incur for Arabic Speakers

Comments on incur

What made you want to look up incur? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


meddlesome, informal, or unofficial

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