My friend, who works on a college campus, cringes when students talk about cramming for their accumulative exams. It’s not the cramming that annoys her. It’s their use of accumulative rather than cumulative.
The transitive verbs cumulate and accumulate both mean to pile up or amass. But accumulate, or the noun accumulation, are more common than cumulate or cumulation.
- The accumulation of great wealth contributed to King Solomon’s downfall.
The adjectives cumulative and accumulative have more distinct meanings and usage, and here, cumulative is more common.
Cumulative refers to amassing or building up over time; growing by successive additions. Accumulative refers to the result of accumulating. It also implies an acquisitiveness or penchant for acquiring or accumulating things.
- Warren Buffet’s accumulative instincts and ability to pick winners and losers are factors in his being one of the wealthiest Americans.
Those exams that cover all the material that’s accumulated in the course of a semester are cumulative. The accumulative effect of not keeping up on the notes and assignments all semester may well necessitate a night of cramming.