I need to know whether I can use both words incidental and accidental in the following self-made context without any change in meaning?

1) Such a success cannot be achieved without the active participation and wholehearted support from domestic and international media friends. Therefore, this success is not................... (without any planning and by chance)

2) Our friendship was quite........................... (without any planning and by chance)

Dictionary definitions for these two adjectives are as below:

Accidental--> happening by chance.
Incidental--> happening by chance, or in connection with something of greater importance.

Bringing up this question, I am going to find out whether these words mean the same in these senses or not.

I think they both are the same, and "incidental" is just a bit more formal in this sense, though I have my doubts again.

  • 1
    The different implications of the two terms can be seen in how we'd most naturally use them in contrastive contexts: What you did wasn't accidental - it was deliberate. His contribution to the project wasn't incidental - it was essential. In general, incidental is closer in meaning to peripheral than to accidental. Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 15:47
  • +1 for the helpful post @FumbleFingers. Actually, regarding the "incidental", I knew that "peripheral" was the second meaning, like "incidental fees" etc. but I didn't know that this is the only meaning of it. However, thank you very much again for the helpful post.
    – A-friend
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


I would use "accidental" in both sentences. I would not use "incidental". The word "accidental" means "happening by chance, unplanned" in this sort of context, while "incidental" means "supplementary to, by the way". Something that is "incidental" may well be unplanned, but the emphasis is that it is subsidiary to, or less important than, whatever is the main thing going on. Here the emphasis is all on things happening (or not happening) by chance, so "accidental" is a much bettr fit.

It would be rare to find a sentences where these two words could be used interchangeably. I cna't think of one at the moment.

  • Would you use "by chance" itself in such a situation @David Siegel?
    – A-friend
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 13:45
  • 1
    @A-friend I might, but I would be rather more likely to use "accidental" here. Instead of "...is not accidental" I might say "...did not occur by chance". However that is a matter of style, not grammar. "by chance" is grammatical and ther is no significant difference in meaning in my view. Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 13:52

The answer by @David Siegel covers it well: although the 2 words are very similar, they can rarely be replaceable. Here, is a real-world example which exemplifies this point:

It has been the case from the start that Trump communicates like no president before him. That’s principally because he miscommunicates like no president before him. And while his verbal errors and infelicities are largely accidental, they’re hardly incidental. And while his verbal errors and infelicities are largely accidental, they’re hardly incidental.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/26/opinion/sunday/trump-language.html

I hope this clarifies it further, how the 2 words are different.

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