Accidental vs incidental

Accidental and incidental are words that are close in spelling and pronunciation and may be considered confusables. Confusables is a catch-all term for words that are often confused in usage. Two words or more than two words may be confused because they are similar in spelling, similar in pronunciation, or similar in meaning. These commonly confused words may be pronounced the same way or pronounced differently or may be spelled the same way or spelled differently, or may have different meanings or have almost different meanings; they may be homophones, homonyms, heteronyms, words that have a similar spelling, or words that have a similar meaning. Confusables often confound native speakers of English, and they may be difficult for ESL students and those learning English to understand. Confusables are misspelled, misused words and may be nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, or any other part of speech. Spelling rules in English are not dependable; there are many exceptions. Often, the best procedure for learning commonly misused words and commonly confused words in English is to make word lists of English words for the learner to study to understand the difference in spelling. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake in English vocabulary, so do not rely on spell check but instead, learn to spell and learn the definitions of words. Even a participant in a spelling bee like the National Spelling Bee will ask for an example of a confusable in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell by using context clues. Confusables are often used in wordplay like puns. 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)

Leave a Comment