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.

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10 thoughts on “Existing or Pre-existing?

  1. Binkie

    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. Jeff 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. ballroomdancer 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. Binkie

    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.

  5. Ray

    Exist VS Pre-exist is indeed an interesting topic.

    I like Binkie’s first (Aug 19, 2017) answer better, because it matched the common perception of the “pre-existing” emphasizes the “PRE-” part, i.e. the thing being described is probably “LONG been existing”, as in comparison to “only been established 5 minutes/hours/days/… ago”, depending on the context.

    Jeff was also logically right that there is no real decisive difference between “exist” and “pre-exist”. And that is presumably why the “pre-existing” tend to be over-used. Even so, I do not think Binkie should have needed to change his/her first answer. I am not even sure I ever saw the usage of “dinosaurs pre-existed humans”. Does that sentence – if it were correct – try to hint the subject (“dinosaurs” in this example) no longer exists when the object (“humans” in this example) appeared? I do not see that meaning from dictionary. In fact, dictionary does not even say “pre-exist” can be a verb. (https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/pre-existing)

    In closing words, I feel the oral difference between “exist” and “pre-exist” might be like “father” and “grandfather”, in a sense that, both “father” and “grandfather” were generations existing before us, but it is a de facto pattern that only “grandfather” can be used to mean “exempt (someone or something) from a new law or regulation”.

    Other pairs might not be that confusing at all. If “planning” means you are making a plan for something, then “pre-planing” (albeit rarely heard) could perhaps mean you are performing some prerequisite activities to facilitate the planning itself? For example, in order to free up your afternoon to sit down planning your vacation, you decided you’d need to run your errand in the morning, and pick up the latest issue of travel magazine from local library on your way home. Those could be considered as the pre-planning activities.

    Last but not the least, there *is* indeed a difference between registering for an event and “pre-registering” for it, even though what *you* do would be exactly the same. In the school system here in U.S., they ask my kid to pre-register classes for the next semester. And then the school would process all the applications. In a rare case that some elective class would be unpopular, the school would cancel that class, and the affected students would be informed to alter their choice. The second application would be final.

  6. ballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Ray! Thanks for the time and thought you put into your response. You raised some excellent points.
    To my mind, everyone benefits when language is clear and specific.
    If someone says they “pregistered,” I don’t know whether they’re trying to say that they registered yesterday, or it was well ahead of the deadline. “Far in advance” is much more helpful.
    We need to use language that conveys EXACTLY what we want to say.
    I had an existing condition when I switched insurance companies. It was a recent condition or a longstanding one.
    I registered the day before an event. Or I registered three months in advance – or a year in advance.
    I am planning an event. Before I started planning, I did some preparation..

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