Clarifying the News: Accident versus Incident

Posted on Apr 10, 2019

Journalistic writing, more specifically news reporting, requires the use of precise and simple language in order to convey events to a large and diverse audience. Incidents are reported all the time on the news, especially accidents. But what exactly is the difference between an incident and an accident?


On one hand, “incident” is a synonym of event. This can be good or bad, intentional or unintentional, big or small. As long as it happens, it could be called an incident. Meeting a friend on the first day of school is an incident.


An “accident,” on the other hand, is a more specific type of incident. Accidents are events that happen unintentionally. The word “accident” often has a negative connotation attached to it; however, some positive events could also be called accidents. For example, you meet a person at a coffee shop because your orders got switched. Later on, the two of you develop a friendship. You could say that you met by accident because your orders were switched.

Accident Incident

Here’s a more illustrative example of the difference between the two: If you punch your classmate on the shoulder and he cries because he’s hurt, that’s an incident. You intended to hurt your classmate. You couldn’t have, but you did anyway. If you ran into your classmate in the hall and he cries after being knocked to the ground, that’s an accident. You didn’t intend to run into your classmate; you didn’t intend to hurt him.

In the study of safety and preparedness, both incident and accident have a little more nuance. An incident is an event which could have been prevented or could have been prepared for. For example, some calamities can be called incidents since we can prepare for them in order to lessen the damage and injury. An accident is an event that couldn’t have been prevented or prepared for. Therefore, the immediate assumption for this is that they could happen anytime.

If you get confused, it’s best to remember that incidents could be intentional and accidents are never intentional. Most importantly, all accidents are incidents, but not all incidents are accidents.


Disclaimer: Images are not ours. Credit to the owner.

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