spo·​rad·​ic spə-ˈra-dik How to pronounce sporadic (audio)
: occurring occasionally, singly, or in irregular or random instances
sporadic protests
a sporadic disease

Did you know?

Sporadic Has Medieval Latin Roots

You never know where or when the occasion to use sporadic will pop up, but when it does, sporadic is the perfect choice to describe something that happens randomly or irregularly, often in scattered instances or isolated outbursts. The word comes from Medieval Latin sporadicus, which is itself derived from Greek sporadēn, meaning “here and there.” It is also related to the Greek verb speirein (“to sow”), the ancestor from which we get our word spore (the reproductive cell of a fungus, microorganism, or some plants), hinting at the seemingly scattered nature by which such cells spread and germinate.

Choose the Right Synonym for sporadic

infrequent, uncommon, scarce, rare, sporadic mean not common or abundant.

infrequent implies occurrence at wide intervals in space or time.

infrequent family visits

uncommon suggests a frequency below normal expectation.

smallpox is now uncommon in many countries

scarce implies falling short of a standard or required abundance.

jobs were scarce during the Depression

rare suggests extreme scarcity or infrequency and often implies consequent high value.

rare first editions

sporadic implies occurrence in scattered instances or isolated outbursts.

sporadic cases of influenza

Example Sentences

The law was indeed tightened, prohibiting the employment of illegal aliens on the valid assumption that removing the magnet of jobs is necessary to stem illegal immigration. But enforcement was sporadic at best, and has now virtually ceased. Mark Krikorian, National Review, 26 Jan. 2004
I left Madras twenty years ago. Two marriages and three children later I am a different man from the one who left. My return visits have been sporadic. But there is great delight in a homecoming. Abraham Verghese, Atlantic, February 2001
The Bronx begins here physically, and it began here historically as well; this was the site of Jonas Bronck's farmhouse. Not much is known about him: he was a Swedish sea captain who was induced to settle the area by the Dutch West India Company. A peace treaty signed at Bronck's house ended years of sporadic but bloody skirmishes between the Dutch and the Weckquasgeeks. Marcus Laffey, New Yorker, 15 May 2000
Sporadic cases of the disease were reported. sporadic loud noises kept startling everyone
Recent Examples on the Web West Nile virus cases are pretty sporadic in recent years according to the health department, and there hasn't been a case in Washtenaw County since 2018. Chandra Fleming, Detroit Free Press, 5 May 2023 Since then, their sporadic live shows have been disorganized, chaotic, and according to most reviews, sensational. Michael Ames, Rolling Stone, 12 Mar. 2023 There are some graceful touches, including sporadic quick flashbacks from the daughter, who sees herself as a small girl with her playful, attentive father. Caryn James, The Hollywood Reporter, 11 Mar. 2023 Such promises may not soothe international corporations that are increasingly wary of investing in China after three years of sporadic lockdowns, prolonged trade and technology tensions with the United States, and after a multitude of crackdowns on Chinese entrepreneurs under Xi. Lyric Li, Washington Post, 10 Mar. 2023 Outside the second-floor window, sporadic points of orange illuminate the bleak low-rise buildings. Han Kang, The New Yorker, 30 Jan. 2023 Street protests have abated in recent weeks, but discontent continues to simmer with sporadic rallies erupting. Sune Engel Rasmussen, WSJ, 28 Jan. 2023 The sporadic playing time has frustrated Christopher in particular. Michael Shapiro, Chron, 27 Jan. 2023 There have been sporadic attempts to close the loophole, most recently as a way to pay for an unrelated wildlife-conservation effort, but supporters of that bill say its progress has stalled. Zachary M. Seward, Quartz, 13 Dec. 2022 See More

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

Word History


Medieval Latin sporadicus, from Greek sporadikos, from sporadēn here and there, from sporad-, sporas scattered; akin to Greek speirein to sow — more at sperm

First Known Use

circa 1689, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of sporadic was circa 1689


Dictionary Entries Near sporadic

Cite this Entry

“Sporadic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sporadic. Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


spo·​rad·​ic spə-ˈrad-ik How to pronounce sporadic (audio)
: occurring or done now and then
sporadically adverb

Medical Definition


spo·​rad·​ic spə-ˈrad-ik How to pronounce sporadic (audio)
: occurring occasionally, singly, or in scattered instances
sporadic diseases
compare endemic, epidemic sense 1
: arising or occurring randomly with no known cause
sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
sporadically adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on sporadic

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