Difference Between Cumulative and Accumulative

Main Difference – Cumulative vs Accumulative

Many English learners are often confused about the two adjectives, cumulative and accumulative. Although both these adjectives refer to growth or increase, there is a subtle difference between them. Cumulative refers to growth or increase by successive additions whereas accumulative refers to a gradual increase or growth. This subtle disparity in meaning is the main difference between cumulative and accumulative.Difference Between Cumulative and Accumulative - infographic

Cumulative – Definition, Meaning and Usage

Cumulative is an adjective that refers to increase – an increase that takes place through successive additives. Oxford Dictionary defines this adjective as increasing or increased in quantity, degree, or force by successive additions. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “increasing or becoming better or worse over time through a series of additions”. All these definitions imply that the increase does not take place as a whole, one increase after another increase results in the gradual increase. For example, let’s consider the phrase, “the cumulative effects of two years of drought.” Here cumulative effects refer to all the different effects during the two years of drought. These effects didn’t happen all at once; they took place in the course of two years.

Main Difference - Cumulative vs Accumulative

The following sentences will clarify this meaning better.

He presented a study of the cumulative effects of adverse weather.

The researchers observed a cumulative weight gain of 50 pounds over a period of two years.

Accumulative – Definition, Meaning and Usage

Accumulative is an adjective that refers to increase as a whole. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “growing or increasing over time” and Oxford dictionary defines it as “gathering or growing by gradual increases”.

Let’s look at a simple scenario about weight loss. Imagine that a man gains weight by 2 kg one year, the next year he gains 4 kg, the year after another 6kg. Every year, he gains more weight than the last year. So, the weight increases over time.

The following sentences will clarify this meaning better.

The accumulative effects of the poison damaged his interior organs.

The environmental pollution has accumulative effects.Difference Between Cumulative and Accumulative

Difference Between Cumulative and Accumulative


Cumulative refers to increase that takes place through successive additives.

Accumulative refers to gradual increase as a whole.

Gradual Increase

Cumulative does not imply that the increase is gradual.

Accumulative implies that the increase is gradual.

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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