Definition of accidental in US English:



  • 1Happening by chance, unintentionally, or unexpectedly.

    ‘a verdict of accidental death’
    ‘the damage might have been accidental’
    • ‘Returning a verdict of accidental death, the jury recommended that South Dublin County Council investigate the accident and consider additional signage in the area.’
    • ‘Mr Whittaker added: ‘My conclusion is that she died an accidental death that was due in all probability to inadvertent overlaying.’’
    • ‘The father of a window cleaner critically injured after falling from his ladder said he will take ‘legal advice’ after an inquest ruled his son's death was accidental.’
    • ‘Having heard the evidence, there was a most regrettable set of circumstances but I believe this was an accidental death.’
    • ‘Recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr Whittaker said: ‘It is a tragedy when a man of 31 dies in circumstances such as these.’’
    • ‘Coroner Dewi Pritchard-Jones recorded a verdict of accidental death at an inquest at Llangefni on Tuesday, after hearing how desperate but vain attempts had been made to revive her after the fall.’
    • ‘After the accidental death of her mother - while horseback riding, naturally - she's forbidden to climb atop anything higher than her bicycle.’
    • ‘We have had some accidental deaths, but no direct no casualties from direct fighting.’
    • ‘He wouldn't have had any chance to escape if it hadn't been for an accidental meeting with Carrie.’
    • ‘‘Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up with comfort and ready answers,’ he wrote.’
    • ‘But this ersatz quality is not some accidental by-product or unintentional residue of Smyth's working methods.’
    • ‘A jury at Manchester Coroner's Court yesterday returned verdicts of accidental death caused by dangerous driving in the cases of both men, who were lifelong friends from Failsworth.’
    • ‘Almost every entrepreneur who has made it will recall that first break, an accidental happening which somehow turned the tide and made success possible.’
    • ‘She spoke of you enthusiastically on both occasions, and I realised that what had started as an accidental meeting had blossomed into a rewarding friendship.’
    • ‘This minimizes the chance of accidental data loss and the possibility of altering archived records.’
    • ‘It was the usual accidental pregnancy, and we had the usual high school romance.’
    • ‘‘It is tragic that a momentary lapse of concentration can have such consequences,’ said Mr Singleton, who recorded a verdict of accidental death.’
    • ‘Also, pregnancy can hardly be considered a random or accidental event that might happen overnight or in training to any soldier.’
    • ‘No longer are you creatures of an accidental happening in an obscure corner of a randomly evolving cosmos.’
    • ‘The addition of ammonium nitrate to dynamite further decreased the chances of accidental explosions.’
    • ‘Jurgis moves downtown to look for a job and gets a chance through an accidental meeting of an old union buddy on his way to work at a machine factory.’
    fortuitous, chance, occurring by accident, occurring by chance, adventitious, fluky, coincidental, casual, serendipitous, random, aleatory
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  • 2Incidental; subsidiary.

    ‘the location is accidental and contributes nothing to the tension between the characters in the poem’
    • ‘So, differences can be accepted only as secondary or accidental characteristics of persons.’
    • ‘Incidental and accidental speech tones and pacing aren't a consideration in this sort of exercise. Clarity is all.’
    • ‘If so, isn't it possible that art is in decline not as part of some grand narrative, but as a accidental and possibly fleeting phenomenon?’
    incidental, unimportant, by the way, by the by, supplementary, subsidiary, subordinate, secondary, marginal, minor, lesser, accessory, peripheral, tangential, extraneous, extrinsic, parenthetical, irrelevant, immaterial, beside the point, of little account, unnecessary, non-essential, inessential
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  • 3Philosophy
    (in Aristotelian thought) relating to or denoting properties which are not essential to a thing's nature.

    • ‘Ibn Sina's denial of the passage view of motion results from his understanding of motion as an accidental property of physical bodies.’
    • ‘Its accidental properties, by contrast, are those that it just happens to have but might well have lacked.’
    • ‘It is customary, both in everyday speech and in philosophical discussion, to distinguish between the essential and the accidental properties of objects.’
    • ‘Having said this, however, Aquinas freely admitted that existence was indeed accidental to substance.’
    • ‘Someone else might mark out the same reference by another accidental property.’
    • ‘If existence were accidental, then a thing could be without its existence, which seems absurd.’
    • ‘Your membership in it is in a way, or to a degree, compulsory - nobody gave you any choice in the matter - but it is contingent and, in the Aristotelian sense, accidental.’
    • ‘Such accidental properties were, like material causes, of secondary status in the Aristotelian view.’
    • ‘On this picture, of course, substantial and accidental forms are both ‘layers of the onion’ in exactly the same sense.’
    • ‘Thus in Aristotle's view, there are accidental phenomena in nature, and they are not subject to scientific knowledge.’
    • ‘The attempt to see which parts of our past were somehow essential and which were accidental has now shifted to comparison between our past and the present development of Third World countries.’
    • ‘The immediate act of the mover gives the concept of motion as an accidental property.’
    • ‘This tendency towards fallacy is not accidental, but intrinsic.’
    • ‘Bacon believed that after accidental correlations had been excluded in this way, only essential correlations would remain.’
    • ‘But clearly not all changes are accidental changes.’
    • ‘It seems unlikely that the bright scarlet color is simply an accidental property.’
    • ‘The inner essences of things were identified in their definitions, and distinguished in that way from accidental properties they exhibited under various circumstances.’
    • ‘Clarke steadfastly maintained that matter has neither an essential nor an accidental power of self-motion.’
    • ‘The statue continues to exist, but receives a form which is accidental to it; it might lose that form without going out of existence.’
    • ‘If we could learn to see mind as an essential rather than accidental aspect of the universe, a whole new sense of the cosmos and of ourselves would follow.’


  • 1Music
    A sign indicating a momentary departure from the key signature by raising or lowering a note.

    • ‘If there are accidentals, determine how they affect a note in the original key; for example, does it move the note tip or down a half step?’
    • ‘Some composers frequently add bracketed accidentals in order to clarify complicated passages or chords.’
    • ‘Students learn to move out of position, cross over, play scale patterns and deal with accidentals, eighth notes, harmonic intervals, switching melody between hands and playing hands together.’
    • ‘This music was full of accidentals, thirty-second notes, dotted whole, half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes, slurs, ties and key changes.’
    • ‘At first the student hesitated with the chord changes and fumbled quite often, messing up accidentals in the tune as we jumped from key to key and so on.’
    • ‘Meter changes frequently; accidentals are profuse.’
    • ‘In the present case there seems to be a consistency between clefs, accidentals and custodes before and after the apparent change in script between nos.357 and 358.’
    • ‘Accompaniment patterns lay comfortably in the hand and the broad harmonic vocabulary includes a few bold moments where accidentals abound.’
    • ‘‘An Afternoon in the Park’ is rhythmic, playful, and requires much attention to details of dynamics, slurs, articulation and accidentals.’
    • ‘Both compositions are quite dissonant and require careful reading of many accidentals.’
    • ‘All use of black keys is indicated by accidentals.’
    • ‘Even when the key signatures are not difficult, there are many accidentals due to chromatic movements and seventh chords.’
    • ‘The arrangement also is rich with accidentals and syncopations.’
    • ‘The drawback of Movable Do, besides abandoning any sense of absolute pitch, results from the problem of accidentals.’
    • ‘Although written in relatively easy keys, the pieces require careful reading with many accidentals throughout.’
    • ‘Successful performance of this work requires a moderate to advanced sense of lyrical line, fluid mastery of third octave fingerings and a working knowledge of accidentals, including double sharps (x).’
    • ‘Pianists reading through a number of these pieces may be sure of a good workout in many keys; modulations abound, accidentals come thick and fast even in the context of already challenging keys.’
    • ‘One piece includes blues-like flatted thirds written as D-sharps and a few later pieces involve E-flat and B-flat accidentals that suggest dominant seventh harmony.’
    • ‘As there are no keys to produce sharps and flats, all accidentals, microtones, as well as meend are produced by a unique fingering technique.’
    • ‘All notes, rests, accidentals, articulations, triplets and staves are provided for the user.’
  • 2Ornithology

    another term for vagrant
    • ‘I would hope that accidentals like the Black-necked Stork and Yellow-fronted Canary are safe regardless of existing legislation.’


Late Middle English (in accidental (sense 2 of the adjective and accidental sense 3 of the adjective)): from late Latin accidentalis, from Latin accident- ‘happening’ (see accident).