Difference between an Accident and an Incident

By: | Updated: Dec-14, 2017
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We often hear the words “accident” and “incident” in the news, but not all of us know the difference between the two words. Are they interchangeable? If not, in what sense are they different?

Summary Table

Accident Incident
An undesirable occurrence caused by error, carelessness, or ignorance, usually with a negative consequence; also synonymous with “chance” A broader term that refers to any event or happening, whether good or bad
Unintentional or unexpected Can be intentional or unintentional


Slipping on a banana peel
Slipping on a banana peel is an example of an accident

An accident is a noun that describes an unintentional, undesirable happening that is caused by error, carelessness, ignorance, or chance which has negative consequences such as loss, casualty, damage, injury, or death. For example:

  • You were too engrossed with the TV show and you spilled your tea on the white couch.
  • A driver crashed his car into a concrete fence because his brakes malfunctioned.

The term “accident” can also be used to describe anything (whether good or bad) that is unexpected or something that happened without a plan. It is synonymous with words like “chance” or “luck.” Let us take a look at some examples below:

  • I met him by accident. I went there to buy a gift for my nephew but I found the love of my life.
  • Sheila found her dream home by accident. She got lost in the woods and came across an abandoned but beautiful tiny cottage.
phone being stolen
Your phone being stolen is an example of an incident

On the other hand, the word incident is a broad term that refers to any event. It can be something unusual, funny, scandalous, positive, negative, intentional or unintentional. Here are some examples of incidents:

  • Actress Jane Smith had a wardrobe malfunction at the Actors’ Guild Awards.
  • An old lady beat a thief with her wooden cane when he was about to steal her bag.
  • The power went out during Maria Singer’s concert.
  • Musicians Joe Smith and John Doe got into a fight at a bar.

Accident vs Incident

What, then, is the difference between an accident and an incident?

An accident is an undesirable occurrence caused by error, carelessness, or ignorance. It is also synonymous with “chance.” Either way, an accident is always unintentional or unexpected. Conversely, an incident is a broader term that refers to any event, whether big or small, positive or negative, unintentional or intentional.

In conclusion, accidents are incidents but not all incidents are accidents. A biker crashing into a tree is an accident and an incident. A thief who stole a bag of diamonds from a jewelry store is an incident but not an accident.

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