Existing or Pre-existing?

Suppose you’ve had diabetes for three years, and you want to switch to another health insurance policy. Do you have an “existing condition” or a “pre-existing” condition?

They’re the same thing.

I hate pre-anything. Well, most of the time. You can make a case for “preview” and “pre-publication” and similar words and expressions.

But yesterday – I am not making this up – I heard someone on the radio say she was “pre-preparing” for an event.

And of course there’s pre-plan, pre-register, pre-arrange. What, pray tell, is the difference between registering for an event and “pre-registering” for it?


I’m going to have a nervous breakdown this election season from hearing “pre-existing” thousands of times on news shows about the candidates.

I have two requests for you: Be ruthless about eliminating “pre” from your conversation – and make sure you’re ready to vote in November.

Follow @JeanReynolds



6 thoughts on “Existing or Pre-existing?

  1. AvatarBinkie

    I share your dislike of the abuse of “pre-“, but there is indeed a difference between “register” and “pre-register”: you can register for an event before or during the event (for example arriving late or opting to register at the door), but you can only pre-register before it begins. There may also be different pricing for registering at the event vs. pre-registering.

    And “pre-existing” is not the same as “existing”: “existing” is something which exists, while “pre-existing” is something which has existed earlier than a specific time.

    The problem is that it’s becoming common to mistakenly use “pre-” where it’s unnecessary or even incorrect. Your example of a pre-existing medical condition is not redundant but irrelevant: it’s an unnecessary usage, as the condition simply exists while applying for insurance etc. It did technically pre-exist the decision to apply for the insurance, but there’s no need to point that out, as it’s completely irrelevant to the insurer. What matters is whether the condition exists at application time. Any given condition has a defined percent chance of occurring during the insured period (based on statistical data), but if it already exists, that’s 100% chance – whether it began during or before the application.

    “Pre-planning” is valid, but is often mistakenly used in place of “planning”. It actually refers to something that occurs before planning, such as a project being in a pre-planning stage – it’s evaluated, then decided on, then planned, then executed, etc.

  2. AvatarJeff Stover

    It makes no sense. “pre-existing” is something which has EXISTED earlier than a specific time” is still EXISTING. Exist doesn’t have anything to do with time. It is a state of being. Something either exists or it doesn’t. No gray areas please. Yikes.

  3. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    “Pre-existing” is an attempt to emphasize that something was present in the past (the annoying “pre-existing” condition talked about in the healthcare debate). Alas, the term will always be with us!

  4. AvatarBinkie

    I came across this page again and I think my earlier answer needs improvement. Jeff is correct about existence being binary – a thing either exists or it doesn’t. To pre-exist something is to exist before it, but in a specific way that’s lost in common usage. Instead of saying ‘“pre-existing” is something which has existed earlier than a specific time’ I should have said ‘“pre-existing” is something which existed earlier than another thing.’ For example, dinosaurs pre-existed humans.

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