re·​cur·​sion ri-ˈkər-zhən How to pronounce recursion (audio)
: the determination of a succession of elements (such as numbers or functions) by operation on one or more preceding elements according to a rule or formula involving a finite number of steps
: a computer programming technique involving the use of a procedure, subroutine, function, or algorithm that calls itself one or more times until a specified condition is met at which time the rest of each repetition is processed from the last one called to the first compare iteration

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Level 2 introduces variables, sensor values, units, flow control statements, arithmetic operations, recursion, and parallelism. Julian Da Silva Gillig, IEEE Spectrum, 23 Nov. 2016 CS Remastered founder Samvit Agarwal took extra time to explain to Aarav the coding concept of recursion – something even college students are still learning. Sarah Matusek, The Christian Science Monitor, 2 Dec. 2020 When the 2020 study on recursive capacities in humans and monkeys was published, some experts remained unconvinced that the monkeys understood recursion. Diana Kwon, Scientific American, 2 Nov. 2022 Narrow definitions focus on syntax and recursion, structural properties shared by all human languages today. Bridget Alex, Discover Magazine, 5 Nov. 2018 One speculation is that animals might use recursion to represent relationships within their social groups. Diana Kwon, Scientific American, 2 Nov. 2022 Even in the academy, fellow polymaths were bedazzled by the breadth of his boundless ruminations into metaphysics, modal logic, recursion theory, identity materialism and the ontological nature of numbers. Sam Roberts, New York Times, 21 Sep. 2022 In the early 2000s, linguists hypothesized that human language is the only form of animal communication that uses recursion, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Dominique Mosbergen. Will Sullivan, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 Nov. 2022 For decades, psychologists thought that recursion was a trait of humans alone. Diana Kwon, Scientific American, 2 Nov. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'recursion.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Late Latin recursiōn-, recursiō "return," from Latin recurrere "to run back, return" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at recur

Note: The form -curs- for expected *-co(r)st- follows the past participle and verbal noun cursus; seen note at course entry 1.

First Known Use

1790, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of recursion was in 1790

Dictionary Entries Near recursion

Cite this Entry

“Recursion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jun. 2023.

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