Accidental vs incidental

Photo of author


Accidental and incidental are words that are close in spelling and pronunciation and may be considered confusables. We will examine the different meanings of the confusables accidental and incidental, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.

Accidental is an adjective that describes something that does not happen on purpose, something that is unexpected or occurs by chance. Something that is accidental is hard to predict. Accidental death and dismemberment insurance covers instances in which the policy holder dies by a random act or accident, such as being hit by a vehicle or falling off a cliff. Such insurance policies have a limited scope in which they will pay a benefit; however, the insurance premium one must pay is usually low. Death by disease, suicide or murder is not generally covered by an accidental death and dismemberment policy. Accidental usually has a negative connotation, as it describes surprising circumstances in which one is injured in some way. However, some surprises are good surprises, and an accidental meeting or accidental scientific finding may yield great rewards. For instance, the discovery of penicillin occurred when a scientist accidentally allowed a petri dish of bacteria to become contaminated with mold. This mold killed the bacteria, and modern antibiotics were discovered. The word accidental is derived from the Latin word accidentem, which means accident or by chance. Accidental is an adjective, related words are accident, accidents, accidentally.

Incidental is an adjective that describes something that is not a major part of the item or situation in question, something that is only loosely connected to something else. For instance, enjoying a musician playing a piano at a restaurant is incidental to the purpose of one’s visit to a restaurant–to eat. The word incidental is derived from the Latin word incident, which means happening to. Related words are incident, incidents, incidentally.


Wooldridge suffered an abrasion to the head and the Mineral County medical examiner reportedly concurred with the investigative finding of an accidental death. (The Cumberland Times-News)

Australian swimmer Shayna Jack was found guilty of accidental doping on Monday and was given a two-year ban that expires days before the start of the Tokyo Olympics. (West Haven Observer)

Wildland fire in remote forests, on the other hand, generally poses little direct risk to society, although it can have incidental impacts on local air and water quality. (The Regulatory Review)

“We’re not seeing, necessarily, transmission happening in kind of incidental exposure settings, so really we’re asking about specific types of activities over those 14 days,” she explained. (The Hawaii Tribune-Herald)