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 accidental (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

Frequently Asked Questions About accidental

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."

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 victim told authorities the shooting was accidental and Hill continued his tenure as sheriff. Jennifer Henderson And Travis Caldwell, CNN, "Georgia sheriff allegedly ordered his employees to use excessive force against detainees, federal indictment says," 28 Apr. 2021 The choice of location could hardly have been accidental. Ingrid D. Rowland, The New York Review of Books, "Light in the Palazzo," 27 Apr. 2021 Indeed, beef as straw man is not accidental, according to Marion Nestle, an author and nutrition professor emerita at New York University. Washington Post, "Biden’s climate change plan may not nix cheeseburgers, but science says beef should be on the chopping block," 26 Apr. 2021 That transformation, however, wasn’t accidental when the first employee of Stevens and Stahl’s e-commerce business was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer at the age of 40. Douglas Yu, Forbes, "From Side Hustle To A Driving Force In The Plant-Based Movement, KOS Is Moving On To Bigger Things," 26 Apr. 2021 Two others died of complications from heart disease and one death was accidental, Dr. Diaz has ruled. Adam Goldman, New York Times, "Officer Attacked in Capitol Riot Died of Strokes, Medical Examiner Rules," 19 Apr. 2021 Authorities believe the fire was accidental, but the origin has not yet been announced. Carol Robinson |, al, "47-year-old woman killed in Jefferson County house fire," 14 Apr. 2021 Before leaving his position, former Police Chief Tim Gannon had said that the shooting was accidental and that Potter had intended to fire her Taser but drew her gun instead. Editorial Board, Star Tribune, "Restoring trust in investigations of police," 14 Apr. 2021 The Brooklyn Center police chief said the shooting was accidental, as the officer involved intended to fire a stun gun and not a handgun during a struggle with Wright. Dave Campbell, ajc, "Twins, Wolves, Wild postpone games following police shooting," 12 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Lydia Cisaruk, Le Petite Academy’s director of communications, said the vehicle was driven by a school family member and called the crash accidental. Andrew J. Campa, Los Angeles Times, "Three children injured when car drives into Saugus day-care center," 22 Feb. 2021 Of those, 15 were ruled justifiable and one accidental and therefore not deemed criminal. Carol Robinson |, al, "Birmingham pastor says killings ‘out of control, unacceptable,’ calls for state of emergency," 4 Jan. 2021 When entertaining, Lawrence recommends a mix of different styled drinking vessels, to ensure that each guest knows which glass is his or hers, helping to prevent any accidental—and unhygienic—sharing. Melissa Feldman, ELLE Decor, "Here Are 14 Festive—and Safe—Holiday Entertaining Ideas for 2020," 8 Dec. 2020 Coroner's officials ruled Houston's death accidental and said heart disease and cocaine were contributing factors. CBS News, "Singer Bobby Brown's son found dead in Los Angeles at age 28," 19 Nov. 2020 Of the 85 homicides in Birmingham so far this year, 12 have now been ruled justifiable and one accidental. Carol Robinson |, al, "June shooting death of Birmingham man deemed justified; no charges will be filed," 15 Sep. 2020 Gerald Brown choked on a ham sandwich and died, a very working-class accidental, but traumatic death. Jacqueline Alnes, Longreads, "“What Do I Know To Be True?”: Emma Copley Eisenberg on Truth in Nonfiction, Writing Trauma, and The Dead Girl Newsroom," 10 Aug. 2020 The medical examiner also determined the boy’s death accidental. Kaylee Remington, cleveland, "Medical Examiner says 8-year-old boy died in accidental drowning in Strongsville hotel pool," 9 July 2020 While the medical examiner ruled her death accidental, conspiracy theories have circulated that Scarborough was involved in her death, which the president has amplified in recent weeks. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner, "Facebook's Zuckerberg diverges from Twitter and says platform 'shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth'," 28 May 2020

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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Learn More about accidental

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

2 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Accidental.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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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 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

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