Concurrent vs. Consecutive: What's the difference?

Some hints for keeping them in order
What to Know

Both concurrent and consecutive are used to describe the order in which things happen. Concurrent means “occurring at the same time” (‘I can’t go to both meetings, because they are concurrent - yay!’) while consecutive means “following one after the other” (‘I can’t go to the movies, because I have three consecutive meetings this afternoon - sob.’)

line of dominos falling down

Consecutive is easy to confuse with concurrent. Both words begin with the prefix con- (meaning “with, together”), and both have something to do with time. Consecutive refers to things that are arranged or happening one after another. Here are some examples:

I ate thirteen consecutive meals at the donut shop, and now I wish I had not done that.

After I beat my younger brother in eight consecutive games of Battleship I had the pleasure of watching him throw a temper tantrum and say he would never play me again.

Four consecutive issues of the magazine were devoted to political scandals.

Concurrent describes things that are operating or occurring at the same time. Here are some examples:

I realized suddenly that I had made plans to interview with two jobs concurrently, and would have to skip one of the interviews.

Concurrent investigations by the department of health and the department of labor indicated the donut shop was having managerial problems.

On the first day of the month there were five concurrent newspaper stories about the political scandal.

Here are some hints for how to keep them separate. Consecutive looks similar to consequence, and the consequences are the things that follow after you do something (such as eat lunch at the donut shop too often); remember that things that are consecutive are things that follow each other.

Concurrent also has a clue hidden in it: the word concur, which means “to express agreement.” Try to think of things that are concurrent as things that are agreeing with each other, and are happening at the same time.