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Grammar Chaos: Cleaning Up after Incidents and Accidents

Have you ever watched the news and wondered what sets apart an incident from an accident? This quick grammar guide ought to help you out!


Report accidents and incidents immediately

Whether it’s from browsing news channels on TV or listening to the overhead PA system at the supermarket, you’ve heard of incidents and accidents happening at random places or to random people. Some of them are unfortunate, others not so much, but certainly they’re all considered curious events. But how do you know if what you’re watching or witnessing is an incident or an accident?


Merriam-Webster defines the term incident as “an occurrence of an action or situation that is a separate unit of experience.” In short, incidents are simply happenings, whether intentional or unintentional, that are remarked by people regardless of context.


More often than not, people pay attention to incidents when they’re connected to something important, perhaps a greater event or a series of events. For instance, a café regular might encounter an incident of a customer berating a barista for taking too long with their order, thinking that it might have something to do with the café’s slow service or the customer’s displeasing disposition.


  1. Security guards reported to the scene of the incident where a snake was found at the thrift store.

  2. She suspected the bar incident had something to do with her husband’s drinking problem.

  3. After the barbecue incident, I might have to think about what kind of food I bring to parties.


Caution Slippery When Wet

On the other hand, an accident is defined as “an unforeseen and unplanned [often unfortunate] event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance.” Unlike incidents, accidents are always unintentional, and in more serious contexts, their consequences are usually very dire or grave. Still, that isn’t to say every accident merits special attention. Some lighter accidents are easily forgiven and overlooked. After all, everyone makes mistakes.


  1. He walked away from the car accident with a slight concussion and a few scratches.

  2. Their dog Beanie had a little accident on the living room rug.

  3. The subway accident left two dead and several injured, raising questions on train maintenance.


To wrap everything up, it’s safe to say that all accidents are incidents, but not all incidents are accidents; it all depends on context and intention. One way to distinguish between these terms is that some incidents happen with some intention on the part of their instigators. So the next time you find yourself itching to use either word, just make sure you know the difference between a milk spill on aisle 8 at the grocery store and that ruckus over at your neighbor’s house party!


Need a good grip on grammar for your writing tasks? The Grammar Chaos blog series is the solution you’ve been searching for! Check out the series on the 1-Hour Proofreading Blog for more entries!



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