ac·​ci·​den·​tal | \ ˌak-sə-ˈden-tᵊl How to pronounce accidental (audio) \

Definition of accidental

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : occurring unexpectedly or by chance an accidental discovery Their meeting was purely accidental.
b : happening without intent or through carelessness and often with unfortunate results The death was ruled accidental.
2 : arising from extrinsic causes : incidental, nonessential
3 of a bird : appearing outside its normal geographic range, migration route, or season



Definition of accidental (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a nonessential property
2a music : a note foreign to a key indicated by a signature
b : a prefixed sign indicating an accidental
3 : a bird found outside its normal geographic range, migration route, or season : vagrant

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Other Words from accidental


accidentalness \ ˌak-​sə-​ˈden-​tᵊl-​nəs How to pronounce accidentalness (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for accidental


accidental, fortuitous, casual, contingent mean not amenable to planning or prediction. accidental stresses chance. any resemblance to actual persons is entirely accidental fortuitous so strongly suggests chance that it often connotes entire absence of cause. a series of fortuitous events casual stresses lack of real or apparent premeditation or intent. a casual encounter with a stranger contingent suggests possibility of happening but stresses uncertainty and dependence on other future events for existence or occurrence. the contingent effects of the proposed law

Incidental vs. Accidental

One sense of incidental is defined as "occurring merely by chance or without intention or calculation ," and one of the most common meanings of accidental in modern use is "occurring unexpectedly or by chance," so it is not surprising that the two words are sometimes confused. However, in almost all settings in which they will be found today, these words have distinct meanings. Incidental is most often used in the sense "being likely to ensue as a chance or minor consequence," or "minor" (as in "there were some incidental expenses that I paid myself").

Examples of accidental in a Sentence

Adjective an accidental discovery of oil The timing of the announcement was purely accidental. The death was ruled accidental.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The coroner’s office concurred that his death appears accidental. Evan Macdonald, cleveland, "Body believed to be missing Port Clinton boy Harley Dilly found in vacant home, police say," 14 Jan. 2020 Her death was ruled accidental, with cocaine use and heart disease listed as contributing factors. Leah Carroll,, "Nick Gordon, Ex-Boyfriend Of Bobbi Kristina Brown, Is Dead At 30," 2 Jan. 2020 Magill says the woman made up the story and shot herself in the leg to make the incident appear accidental. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Police: Woman made up raccoon story to cover up shooting," 18 Oct. 2019 The 26-year-old’s death was ruled accidental, but activists and Moore’s family immediately began to pressure the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to take a closer look at the incident. Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times, "Democratic donor Ed Buck pleads not guilty to federal drug charges," 10 Oct. 2019 While the incident appears accidental, detectives are investigating. Emily Brindley,, "Son tried to save father before both fell to their deaths after riding ATVS in Farmington quarry," 19 Sep. 2019 Dean's death was ruled accidental, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in March. Madeline Holcombe, CNN, "Democratic donor Ed Buck charged with a felony for running a drug den," 18 Sep. 2019 It was ruled accidental by Canton fire and the state fire marshal’s office., "Canton family escapes 3-alarm house fire - The Boston Globe," 13 Sep. 2019 The deaths of all 10 children, many of whom were first cousins, were ruled accidental by the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Morgan Greene,, "10 children were killed a year ago in one of Chicago’s deadliest fires. The cause is still unknown, and officials have been mostly silent.," 22 Aug. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said the conclusions came from the state's chief medical examiner, which also ruled the death accidental. Leora Arnowitz, USA TODAY, "Robert F. Kennedy's granddaughter, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, died of accidental overdose," 1 Nov. 2019 Investigators initially ruled his death accidental, but activists and Moore’s family quickly challenged that determination. Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times, "Drugged man who escaped Democratic donor Ed Buck’s house says he’s homeless, trying to rebuild life," 24 Sep. 2019 Sayers said Musser died of blunt force trauma and ruled the death accidental. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Man killed while cutting down trees, death ruled accidental," 18 Aug. 2019 The state medical examiner later ruled his death accidental. Alison Knezevich,, "Baltimore County agrees to pay $1.1M to settle lawsuit alleging excessive police force in death of 21-year-old," 5 Aug. 2019 The Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death accidental. Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Boy, 8, dies when father accidentally runs him over with farming equipment," 27 July 2019 The Oregon Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death accidental. Gillian Flaccus, Fox News, "DA: Missing woman died instantly in jump from mom's car," 27 Sep. 2018 The Hamilton County Coroner ruled the death accidental. Cameron Knight,, "Source: Rear seat of minivan flipped, pinned Seven Hills student Kyle Plush," 12 Apr. 2018 The medical examiner’s office ruled his death accidental. Jessica Anderson,, "Family of Baltimore County man who died days after encounter with police files lawsuit," 18 Sep. 2017

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

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First Known Use of accidental


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for accidental


Middle English, borrowed from Anglo-French accidentel, borrowed from Late Latin accidentālis, from Latin accident-, accidens accident + -ālis -al entry 1


Middle English, borrowed from Medieval Latin accidentālis, noun derivative of Late Latin accidentālis accidental entry 1

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Time Traveler for accidental

Time Traveler

The first known use of accidental was in the 14th century

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Statistics for accidental

Last Updated

20 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Accidental.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 29 January 2020.

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More Definitions for accidental


How to pronounce accidental (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of accidental

: happening in a way that is not planned or intended : happening by accident : happening as an accident


ac·​ci·​den·​tal | \ ˌak-sə-ˈden-tᵊl How to pronounce accidental (audio) \

Kids Definition of accidental

1 : happening by chance or unexpectedly an accidental discovery
2 : not happening or done on purpose an accidental shooting

Other Words from accidental

accidentally adverb I broke it accidentally.

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Comments on accidental

What made you want to look up accidental? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to assert without proof or before proving

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