ac·​ci·​den·​tal | \ ˌak-sə-ˈden-tᵊl \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from accidental


accidentally \ ˌak-​sə-​ˈdent-​lē , -​ˈden-​tᵊl-​ē \ or less commonly accidently \ -​ˈdent-​lē \ adverb
accidentalness \ -​ˈden-​tᵊl-​nəs \ 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


an accidental discovery of oil The timing of the announcement was purely accidental. The death was ruled accidental.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The Google representative said officials suspect the leak was accidental and not a malicious hijack. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, "Google goes down after major BGP mishap routes traffic through China," 12 Nov. 2018 But cute antics and accidental tripping aside, the pageboys and bridesmaids' outfits stood out for taking a less traditional route than previous royal weddings. Harper's Bazaar Staff, Harper's BAZAAR, "Eugenie & Jack's Bridesmaids and Pageboys Wore Less Traditional Looks Than Meghan & Harry's," 12 Oct. 2018 When She Threw Jughead That Surprise Party Betty’s (accidental) wild surprise birthday party for Jughead will live in infamy in the world of Riverdale. Jessica Macleish, Teen Vogue, "Lili Reinhart's Best 9 Moments as Betty Cooper on Riverdale," 13 Sep. 2018 Police and the Medical Examiner's Office are trying to determine whether Hammonds' death was natural, accidental or suspicious. charlotteobserver, "Unsatisfactory pace of homicide investigation forces CMPD to reassign detective," 5 July 2018 Whether Salah's injury was accidental or not, there was no way Ramos was letting the most prolific forward in Europe through on goal that night., "Sergio Ramos Ruthlessly Trolls Liverpool's Mohamed Salah Following Egypt World Cup Misery," 22 June 2018 Transhumanists believe that technology will inevitably eliminate aging or disease as causes of death and instead turn death into the result of an accidental or voluntary physical intervention. Joi Ito, WIRED, "The Responsibility of Immortality: Welcome to the New Transhumanism," 4 June 2018 Trying to avoid the food that triggers your allergy is obviously important, but even with the utmost vigilance, accidental exposures can still happen, Dr. Fadugba explains. Korin Miller, SELF, "Bethenny Frankel’s Allergic Reaction Was So Severe She 'Thought She Had a Stroke'," 18 Dec. 2018 Shiny silver chrome and brushed nickel are too close that their pairing will look accidental and clash-y, not intentional. Maggie Burch, House Beautiful, "3 Design "Rules" You Don't Need To Follow Anymore," 15 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

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 The medical examiner’s office ruled Stokely’s death accidental. Peter Hermann, Washington Post, "Children left alone at day care where toddler died in pool, investigation finds," 31 Aug. 2017 A concurrent investigation by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office said Tice was killed by blunt-force trauma to his head and ruled the death accidental. The Denver Post, The Mercury News, "California yoga mogul’s mysterious death: Trevor Tice’s drunken last hours detailed," 27 Jan. 2017 The medical examiner has previously ruled the death accidental and said alcohol was a factor. Carrie Wells,, "Ocean City police conclude investigation into death of Texas woman," 24 Aug. 2017 Police spent several months investigating the incident before closing the case, ruling the death accidental. Dave Altimari,, "Mother Of Teen Who Fell From Top Of Hartford Bar Doubts Daughter Was Alone On Roof," 4 Aug. 2017 A concurrent investigation by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office said Tice was killed by blunt-force trauma to his head and ruled the death accidental. The Denver Post, The Mercury News, "California yoga mogul’s mysterious death: Trevor Tice’s drunken last hours detailed," 27 Jan. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about accidental

Share accidental

Statistics for accidental

Last Updated

20 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for accidental

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for accidental



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 \

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.

Keep scrolling for more

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).


important, real, or meaningful

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Homophone Quiz

  • three-bears-two-of-them-look-like-theyre-whispering-to-a-third-bear-who-looks-chuffed-to-be-the-center-of-attention
  • In order to judge how people felt, the senator's office hired a firm to take a ______.
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!