Memory Problems? Remember v. Recall

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question from Jego in Ethiopia about the difference between “remember” and “recall.”

Question:

Dear Learning English,

What is the difference between “remember” and “recall?”

Thank you,

Jego from Eithopia

Answer:

Dear Jego,

Thank for writing to us again and asking this question.

Both “recall” and “remember” are verbs that involve memory — thinking about something that happened in the past. In many cases, the two words are interchangeable.

Remember

“Remember” is a verb that means to think about the past. You can create from memory a mental picture of the past.

I remember playing outside a lot as a child.

The opposite of “remember” is to “forget” something. We often use “remember” as a command so others “do not forget” something important.

Remember to take the cat to the animal hospital.

Don’t forget to take the cat to the animal hospital.

Patches a calico cat at an animal shelter. (Jillian Title/Animal Shelter Assistance Program via AP)

Recall

Recall has a few different meanings and uses. It can be similar in meaning to “remember.” This meaning is “to call back into memory” or “access something from memory again.”

I don’t recall meeting her last year.

In this sentence, we can replace “recall” with “remember” as the meanings are similar.

As a noun “recall” is the ability to remember something or the act of remembering. The first syllable of the word is stressed. So we say RE-call, not re-CALL.

Although he had not spoken French for a while, his recall of vocabulary was amazing.

Recall also has two more uses as verbs. The first means to order someone back to a place or country officially.

She was recalled back to her home country because her visa expired.

We often use the passive voice with this meaning of recall.

Lastly as a verb, to recall something means, “to order back.” We often use this expression when talking about businesses or companies asking for products to be returned because there is something wrong with them.

Car companies often recall cars to change the safety system.

Summary

“Remember” means to keep something in your memory, while “recall” means to access your memory.

You cannot exchange “do not forget” with “recall,” only with “remember.”

Acceptable: Don’t forget the flowers for the wedding.

Acceptable: Remember the flowers for the wedding

Not acceptable: Recall the flowers for the wedding.

In this Dec. 14, 2017 photo, a bride holds a bouquet during her wedding in Ein Hemed, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

Please let us know if these examples have helped you, Jego!

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

access — v. a way of being able to use or get something

syllable — n. a part a word is naturally divided into when pronounced.

expire — v. to end : to no longer be valid after a period of time

passive voice — n. a way of writing or speaking that uses passive verbs

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