What is the difference between incidental and accidental?

What is the difference between incidental and accidental?

What is the difference between incidental and accidental?

“Incidental” and “accidental” are two words that are often used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings and connotations in different contexts:


Definition: The term “incidental” is an adjective that is used to describe something that occurs as a secondary consequence or byproduct of a primary event or activity. It suggests that the occurrence is related to or associated with the main focus but is not the primary intention.

Examples of Incidental:

  1. Incidental Learning: In education, incidental learning refers to the unplanned and unintentional acquisition of knowledge or skills. For example, a student may learn about historical events while researching a different topic.
  2. Incidental Findings in Medical Tests: In medicine, incidental findings are unexpected abnormalities or conditions discovered during medical tests or examinations that were originally conducted for a different purpose. For instance, a chest X-ray taken for a suspected lung infection may incidentally reveal a heart condition.
  3. Incidental Music in Films: In the world of cinema, incidental music refers to background music or soundtracks that accompany a film or television show. While the primary focus is on the visual and narrative aspects, the music serves to enhance the overall experience.
  4. Incidental Contact in Sports: In sports, incidental contact refers to unintentional physical contact between players that occurs as a natural part of the game. It is not a foul or a violation because it was not deliberate.

Key Characteristics of Incidental:

What is the difference between incidental and accidental?

What is the difference between incidental and accidental?

  • Related to the Main Event: Incidental occurrences have some connection or relevance to the primary event or activity but are not the central focus.
  • Unplanned or Unintentional: They typically happen without specific intention or forethought.
  • Secondary or Minor: Incidental aspects are often secondary or minor in comparison to the primary focus.
  • Can Enhance or Enrich: Incidental elements can enhance or enrich the primary experience by adding depth or context.
  • Examples in Various Fields: The concept of incidental is applicable in education, healthcare, arts, sports, and many other domains where secondary events or outcomes are observed.


Definition: The term “accidental” is also an adjective, but it describes something that occurs by chance or without intent. Accidents are events that happen unexpectedly or unintentionally and are often associated with unpredictability.

Examples of Accidental:

  1. Car Accident: A car collision that occurs due to unforeseen circumstances, such as slippery road conditions or a driver running a red light, is an accidental event.
  2. Accidental Spill: If someone accidentally knocks over a glass of water, causing it to spill, it means they didn’t intend for it to happen; it was a chance occurrence.
  3. Accidental Discovery: In science and innovation, many groundbreaking discoveries have been accidental. For instance, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he noticed mold growing in a petri dish he had left unattended.
  4. Accidental Meeting: Running into an old friend while shopping, when neither of you planned to meet, is an accidental encounter.

Key Characteristics of Accidental:

What is the difference between incidental and accidental?

What is the difference between incidental and accidental?


  • Unplanned and Unintentional: Accidents are events that happen without prior planning or intent.
  • Random or Chance Occurrence: They are often characterized by their unpredictability and the element of chance.
  • Not a Result of Deliberate Action: Accidents typically result from natural or external factors rather than deliberate actions.
  • May Have Significant Consequences: Accidental events can sometimes have significant and far-reaching consequences, whether positive or negative.
  • Examples in Everyday Life: Accidental events are common in everyday life and can range from minor inconveniences to major life-changing occurrences.

Comparison and Distinctions:

Now that we have a comprehensive understanding of both terms, let’s compare and contrast them in various aspects:

  1. Nature of Occurrence:

    • Incidental: Incidental events are related to the main event or activity and may enhance or enrich it. They are secondary or auxiliary in nature.
    • Accidental: Accidental events are typically random and unplanned, often resulting from chance or external factors. They are not related to the main event or intention.
  2. Intent:

    • Incidental: Incidental occurrences may not be the primary intention but can be related to the main purpose or objective.
    • Accidental: Accidents are by definition unintentional and lack any deliberate planning or purpose.
  3. Predictability:

    • Incidental: While incidental events are not the primary focus, they may still be somewhat predictable or expected in the context of the main activity.
    • Accidental: Accidental events are characterized by their unpredictability and lack of foresight.
  4. Significance:
    • Incidental: Incidental aspects are often of lesser significance than the main event but can contribute to a richer experience or outcome.
    • Accidental: Accidents can range in significance from minor inconveniences to major life-altering events, depending on the circumstances.
  5. Examples:
    • Incidental: Examples of incidental occurrences include incidental learning, incidental findings in medical tests, and incidental music in films.
    • Accidental: Examples of accidental events include car accidents, accidental spills, accidental discoveries in science, and accidental meetings.
  6. Fields of Application:
    • Incidental: The concept of incidental is applicable in various fields such as education, healthcare, arts, and entertainment, where secondary events or outcomes are observed.
    • Accidental: Accidental events can occur in any aspect of life and are not limited to specific domains.
  7. Consequences:
    • Incidental: The consequences of incidental events are usually more controlled and manageable since they are related to the main activity.
    • Accidental: Accidents can have a wide range of consequences, including both positive and negative outcomes, and may be more challenging to predict or manage.

In Summary:

While “incidental” and “accidental” are often used interchangeably in everyday language, they have distinct meanings and implications. “Incidental” refers to something related to the main event but not central to it, while “accidental” denotes something that happens by chance or without intention. Understanding these differences can help in more precise communication and interpretation of events in various contexts.