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

Examples of recursion in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web This last step launches a kind of recursion: because the supertiles behave just like metatiles, the same grouping process applies to them as well. Craig S. Kaplan, Scientific American, 14 Dec. 2023 What then is too much, when a sleight of the rational names plenty as recursion in thickets, absent blaring data and the insects vanish. Alice Gribbin, The New York Review of Books, 2 Nov. 2023 Then the authors used a method called recursion to build spaces that multiplied these decision points, forcing the algorithm into a morass of bad options and driving up the cost. Yasemin Saplakoglu, Quanta Magazine, 21 Nov. 2023 The plot’s endless recursions are a reductio ad absurdum of the quest for authorial authenticity, particularly acute in the context of African literature. Julian Lucas, The New Yorker, 11 Sep. 2023 Pairing her sensitive voice with a moving piano melody, Zahm recounts years of adults expecting more out of her while her peers kept their distance, and the endless recursion loop of confusion and hurt that came as a result. Stephen Daw, Billboard, 14 July 2023 This circular, generative recursion gives us resources, and in fact is likely to compel us, to be different going forward. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 6 June 2023 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

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 13 Jun. 2024.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!