Definition of accident in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈaksədənt/


1An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury: he had an accident at the factory if you are unable to work owing to accident or sickness [as modifier]: an accident investigator
More example sentences
  • He said data from accidents and damage incidents is collected and used to tailor officer and staff training to improve safety and cut down costs.
  • Air accident investigators say the incident was ‘serious’ and are checking instructions from air traffic control.
  • Each year, more than 37,000 women die from accidents.
mishap, misadventure, unfortunate incident, mischance, misfortune, disaster, tragedy, catastrophe, calamity
technical casualty
1.1A crash involving road or other vehicles, typically one that causes serious damage or injury: four people were killed in a car accident
More example sentences
  • Currently the only call-outs that Grassington does not cover are road traffic accidents and aircraft crashes because it does not have the specialist cutting equipment required.
  • Each year more than 200 people are rescued from vehicles involved in road accidents in North Yorkshire, a greater number than those rescued from fires.
  • ‘All staff responding to road traffic accidents should thoroughly search vehicles,’ he said.
crash, collision, smash, bump, car crash;
informal smash-up, pileup, fender bender
1.2 informal Used euphemistically to refer to an incidence of incontinence, typically by a child or an animal.
2An event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause: the pregnancy was an accident it is no accident that my tale features a tragic romance
More example sentences
  • As a result, they welcomed successful accidents and chance events.
  • Thus, accidents or chance events function as sites around which narratives of individual difference can collocate.
  • Perhaps it was no accident that the two events coincided, since the association between oysters and sex has been so hackneyed as to become an embarrassing cliché.
(mere) chance, coincidence, twist of fate, freak;
fluke, bit of luck, serendipity;
fate, fortuity, fortune, providence, happenstance
2.1The working of fortune; chance: my faith is an accident of birth, not a matter of principled commitment he came to Harvard largely through accident
More example sentences
  • By accident of birth, most, but not all American leaders, were born in the United States.
  • And so now by pure accident of birth, I'm alive at a time where science is about to figure this out.
  • All to make sure that the children get the opportunities they were denied by mere accident of birth.
3 Philosophy (In Aristotelian thought) a property of a thing that is not essential to its nature.
Example sentences
  • The new element is existence, which Avicenna regarded as an accident, a property of things.
  • It does not tell me that I am a substance (that is, an independently existing object) as opposed to an accident or property.
  • The sensory qualities of such an object are therefore no more than passing accidents, through which its essence is dimly and confusedly perceived.



an accident waiting to happen

1A potentially disastrous situation, typically caused by negligent or faulty procedures.
Example sentences
  • The situation was an accident waiting to happen.
  • The situation is an accident waiting to happen and there are already frequent prangs and bumps around the junction.
  • You would think anyone would immediately recognize the situation as an accident waiting to happen.
2A person certain to cause trouble.
Example sentences
  • Idiots like this are an accident waiting to happen and, unfortunately, these accidents rarely affect just the drivers concerned.
  • You have been an accident waiting to happen and have placed many of your fellow citizens in grave danger.
  • Johnson was an accident waiting to happen and the big central defender, Robert Huth, who suffered at right-back against Bayern Munich, switched to the left where he looked even more uncomfortable and uncertain.

accidents will happen

However careful you try to be, it is inevitable that some unfortunate or unforeseen events will occur: problems like these should not occur, but accidents will happen
More example sentences
  • Sometimes these things just happen as not even one method of contraception is 100% reliable, so accidents will happen, unfortunately!
  • ‘They have a structured training system but, at the end of the day, any training system run by human beings is subject to accidents, and accidents will happen,’ said Mr Brownson.
  • Yes, we regret the loss of four lives, but throughout the history of war, accidents will happen, innocents will be killed.

by accident

Unintentionally; by chance: she didn’t get where is today by accident
More example sentences
  • Of course, the chances of this happening by accident are literally a hundred million billion to one.
  • In truth, it was more by accident than design but it was a lucky chance which established his fame and fortune.
  • I might have pulled my front brake by accident, which is why I went over the front, but I don't know.


Late Middle English (in the general sense 'an event'): via Old French from Latin accident- 'happening', from the verb accidere, from ad- 'toward, to' + cadere 'to fall'.

  • An accident was originally ‘an event, something that happens’, not necessarily a mishap. It came into English via Old French, ultimately from Latin cadere, meaning ‘to fall’, which also gave us words such as cadaver (Late Middle English) ‘someone fallen’, chance, decay (Late Middle English) ‘fall away’, incident (Late Middle English) ‘fall upon’ so ‘happen’; and occasion (Late Middle English). The idea of an event ‘falling’ remains in the English word befall (Old English). Later the meaning of accident evolved into ‘something that happens by chance’, as in the phrase a happy accident. By the 17th century the modern meaning had become established in the language. The full form of the proverb accidents will happen, which dates from the early 19th century, is accidents will happen in the best-regulated families. According to Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens's David Copperfield (1850): ‘Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families; and in families not regulated by…the influence of Woman, in the lofty character of Wife, they must be expected with confidence, and must be borne with philosophy.’ See also adventure

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: ac·ci·dent

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.