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In every sentence I have ever read that used the word "incessant," it could easily be replaced by "constant". For example, we say:

incessant/constant + rain/noise/complaints

So, are there situations where "incessant" is more suitable?

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    Incessant is used particularly of things that you wish would stop (Oxford says 'of something regarded as unpleasant'). Constant can be complimentary. Commented Jun 3 at 9:22
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    Yes, I would say so. Commented Jun 3 at 10:26
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    But incessant is usually more obviously plaintive than is constant. Commented Jun 3 at 10:49
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    Constant has several meanings in the dictionary (it can mean frequent or regular, or faithful, as well as never-stopping); incessant really only has one meaning. So using incessant will avoid ambiguity and can be more forceful. Although "stop your constant interruptions!" is also pretty forceful. And "incessant" is a bit rarer, perhaps more high-register or literary and less suitable for everyday chit-chat.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:54
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    Another difference might be that constant usually implies something continuous, while incessant might refer to something discrete but very frequent.
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 3 at 19:54

5 Answers 5

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Constant is a much more common word, and it is rare to hear native speakers use incessant in informal speech. It mostly shows up in very formal speaking or in writing. As noted in the comments, incessant has a different connotation. It is nearly always a negative adjective, emphasizing that the noun it modifies is annoying, painful, or otherwise unpleasant.

Constant is a neutral adjective. It can mean its noun is a good or bad thing, or maybe neither or some of both. It doesn't have the same connotation.

Here are some examples with context:

Example 1

Sarah is constantly bringing sweets into work to share with her coworkers.

This is a nice thing to do! The reader would assume that the speaker is either neutral about this action or thankful for it. Yum! Thanks, Sarah, for bringing in sweets!

Sarah is incessantly bringing sweets into work to share with her coworkers.

This says that the speaker is annoyed at Sarah. Maybe the speaker is the custodian who has to clean up the mess that the sweets make. Maybe the speaker thinks that Sarah's not very good at her job and that the sweets are a bribe to get her coworkers to overlook that. The speaker does not enjoy this action.

Example 2

The rain is constant this time of year.

Most likely this is a complaint- who likes when it rains every day? But it could be a neutral or positive statement instead. Maybe the speaker really likes the rain? Or maybe the speaker really likes consistency, and doesn't care what the weather is so long as it is predictable?

The rain is incessant this time of year.

This is absolutely a complaint. This person just wants it to stop raining.

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    The way I'd read "Sarah is constantly bringing sweets into work" is "Sarah is constantly bringing sweets into work", with an eye roll indicating irritation. I'd simply say "often" or "very often" if I liked it. Commented Jun 4 at 16:56
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica That's how I'd read that too. Constant is usually always a synonym for annoyingly frequent. Commented Jun 5 at 10:06
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    The sweets example doesn’t really work at all to me. Constantly just about works as hyperbole, but it’s awkward – by far the more natural word to use would be always. Incessantly would be utterly bizarre, indicating that she spends 24 hours a day bringing sweets to work and never takes a break. Commented Jun 5 at 13:47
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    Speech (spoken language) is not a final arbiter here. And incessant can be positive. Context is everything. The incessant patter of rain on the tin roof is pleasing to some people. The incessant patter of little feet is actually charming. BUT: The incessant internet chatter about that subject is really tiresome.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 5 at 14:30
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There's a difference in meaning, though many speakers will ignore it.

Constant means there's no change.

Incessant means it doesn't stop.

So rain that's light for a while, then heavier, then light again? Incessant. Not constant. Calling it constant is a misnomer.

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    "No change" is just one of the meanings of constant. The number three for the adjective, "continually occurring or recurring", is practically synonymous to incessant (the difference between "constant noise" and "incessant noise" is subtle). Commented Jun 5 at 12:54
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    Even in the narrower sense that constant refers to a lack of change, there is nothing wrong about ‘constant rain’ in the context you mention. The fact that it is raining does not change and is therefore constant; only the intensity of the rain changes, not its presence. Similarly, if you say there’s been a constant traffic jam for three hours somewhere, that doesn’t imply that the number of cars involved or the speed they move at has remained exactly the same for three hours, just that the existence of the traffic jam doesn’t change. Commented Jun 5 at 13:51
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Incessant usually indicates that there is a driving force — often a will, a determination — behind the process that does not stop. That may be positive:

But because people exposed to that drive sometimes suffer (wouldn't Nadal be the first to call Federer's aggression "incessant"?), incessant often carries a negative air:

Uses like "incessant noise" or "incessant rain" can be almost perceived as attributing agency to the noise or rain. One would use it where one could also use "relentless" or even "merciless".

Constant has several meanings; only one of them — "continually occurring or recurring" — is practically synonymous with incessant. Interestingly, many of Merriam-Webster's examples have negative connotations: "a constant annoyance", "suffers from constant headaches", "her constant chatter was a nuisance". A neutral example from the web is "Order and liberty move in constant tension, back and forth, but with no final victories for the one over the other." One positive example is "Part of that value lies in his constant enthusiasm."

I do not agree with the other answers, in particular the accepted one, which claim that "incessant" is almost always negative (it isn't) while "constant" in the sense of "not ending" is not — "constant" is also mostly used for things that are annoying: After all, there are very few things whose constant presence is bearable. Constant love and support, maybe, if it isn't too suffocating; or, for Douglas Adams, Mozart's music ("'too much Mozart' was, given any reasonable definition of those three words, an inherently self-contradictory expression").

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    None of those positive examples sound natural to me; they sound like mistakes where the intended word was unceasing, unyielding, never-ending or similar. I cannot come up with any examples where incessant is positive at all. Even positive things become negatives if described as incessant: ‘his incessant enthusiasm’ makes him sound like an overactive puppy, and ‘incessant love and support’ sounds like you just want to be left alone. Commented Jun 5 at 13:58
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    incessant and unceasing are the same thing. Your two and three are actually pretty good to show a positive use of incessant. "His incessant brilliance was noticed in academia". :) +1 I guess agression in sports can be construed as positive, also?
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 5 at 14:29
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    @Lambie Indeed, Federer's "incessant" aggression was (besides his amazing serve and powerful forehand) suggested as the reason for his dominance, hence a good thing (unless you are Nadal). An incessant critic of the misguided policies of the government certainly is a good thing as well; and Trump's incessant threats are only bad if you are his political Nadal, so to speak (i.e., if you are on the opposing side). Commented Jun 5 at 15:29
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Many examples of "incessant effort[s]" are positive, e.g. here. Commented Jun 5 at 15:42
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An incessant process or activity is one that continues without stopping

I believe "incessant" always has a subtext: I want it to stop already.

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    Not always, see my answer. Yes, the "victim" of something incessant usually finds it unpleasant; the beneficiary, not necessarily. Commented Jun 4 at 18:12
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Constant does not necessarily imply forever, while incessant does have the implication of never ending. For example, playing music at constant volume does not imply the music goes on forever, while incessant can.

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    I'd rather say that incessant simply cannot be used here (incessant volume does not work; incessant music works as well as constant music, and both imply that it's not ending when it should). Commented Jun 4 at 18:15

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