accident

noun

ac·​ci·​dent ˈak-sə-dənt How to pronounce accident (audio) -ˌdent How to pronounce accident (audio)
ˈaks-dənt
1
a
: an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance
Their meeting was an accident.
b
: lack of intention or necessity : chance
They met by accident rather than by design.
2
a
: an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance
was involved in a traffic accident
b
medical : an unexpected and medically important bodily event especially when injurious
a cerebrovascular accident
c
law : an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but for which legal relief may be sought
d
US, informal
used euphemistically to refer to an uncontrolled or involuntary act or instance of urination or defecation (as by a baby or a pet)
The puppy had an accident on the rug.
3
: a nonessential property or quality of an entity or circumstance
the accident of nationality

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between accidental and incidental?

Accidental describes what was not planned or intended. It means "happening by accident" or "happening as an accident," as in "an accidental discovery" and "an accidental injury." Incidental typically means "happening as a minor part or result of something else," as in "a chapter that is incidental to the novel's plot." For more information read the full article.

Do you say 'on accident' or 'by accident'?

While both "by accident" and "on accident" are used, "by accident" is far more common.

What does 'accident waiting to happen' mean?

The phrase "an accident waiting to happen" refers to a person or thing that is dangerous or unsafe. For example, a very clumsy person and a rickety ladder might both be referred to as "an accident waiting to happen."

Example Sentences

He was injured in an accident at work. The accident happened when her car slid on a patch of ice. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the accident. Their meeting was an accident.
Recent Examples on the Web The actor, best known for playing the superhero Hawkeye over the last 12 years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was involved in a snowplow accident at his home in Reno, Nevada on New Year's Day. Philip Ellis, Men's Health, 21 Jan. 2023 Despite the fatal shooting being ruled an accident by the New Mexico chief medical investigator, prosecutors believe a crime was committed. Aya Elamroussi, CNN, 21 Jan. 2023 Body camera footage of Keenan Anderson as police responded to a traffic accident in Los Angeles. Alicia Victoria Lozano, NBC News, 21 Jan. 2023 Renner's latest Instagram post comes about after the actor returned to his Nevada home for the first time after his accident earlier this week. Nicholas Rice, Peoplemag, 21 Jan. 2023 Seven people were hospitalized following a vehicle accident in Pembroke Park Thursday night. Shira Moolten, Sun Sentinel, 20 Jan. 2023 The incident occurred after officers responded to a multicar accident at a busy intersection in Venice. Richard Wintonstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 20 Jan. 2023 Conveniently for us, the University of Washington scholars used accident coordinates and some basic weather math to calculate exactly when the sun would have risen or set at each location. Andrew Van Dam, Washington Post, 20 Jan. 2023 Following a devastating traffic accident, young student and athlete Allan (Jason Beghe) is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Declan Gallagher, EW.com, 19 Jan. 2023 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'accident.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, "happening, nonessential property, diseased condition, disturbance (of the mind)," borrowed from Anglo-French, "irregularity, incident, symptom," borrowed from Latin accident-, accidens "chance event, contingent attribute" (translating Greek symbebēkós), from present participle of accidere "to fall down, impinge on, be heard, happen," from ad- ad- + cadere "to fall" — more at chance entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of accident was in the 14th century

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Dictionary Entries Near accident

Cite this Entry

“Accident.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accident. Accessed 28 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition

accident

noun
ac·​ci·​dent ˈak-səd-ənt How to pronounce accident (audio)
-sə-ˌdent
1
a
: an event occurring by chance or from unknown causes
b
: chance entry 1 sense 1
we met by accident
2
: an unintended and usually sudden and unexpected event resulting in loss or injury
an automobile accident

Medical Definition

accident

noun
1
: an unfortunate event resulting from carelessness, unawareness, ignorance, or a combination of causes
2
: an unexpected bodily event of medical importance especially when injurious
a cerebrovascular accident
3
: an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but for which legal relief may be sought
accidental adjective
accidentally adverb
also accidently

Legal Definition

accident

noun
ac·​ci·​dent
: an unexpected usually sudden event that occurs without intent or volition although sometimes through carelessness, unawareness, ignorance, or a combination of causes and that produces an unfortunate result (as an injury) for which the affected party may be entitled to relief under the law or to compensation under an insurance policy see also unavoidable accident

Note: The term accident has been held to include intentional acts (such as an assault and battery) under workers' compensation laws.

accidental adjective
accidentally adverb
also accidently

More from Merriam-Webster on accident

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