I am wondering if the verb "stumble on" can be a substitute for "come across" in the following case without any change in the meaning?

  • When I was looking up in the dictionary, I ........... a word I had never seen before.

a. came across
b. stumbled on

To me they mean exactly the same thing in this case, but I have no idea how a native speaker would think in this case!

1 Answer 1


Both can technically be used interchangeably (also, you'll likely see "stumbled upon" instead of "stumbled on").

However, "came across" is presented as a somewhat more refined way of speaking as opposed to "stumbled upon". Both imply that the finding of the word was unintentional, but in proper writing "came across" is the preferred way of speaking.

  • Thank you @amogh7joshi do you mean that I can use "stumble on" instead of "come across" and the only thing that I have to bear in mind is that "come across" is a preferred choice when it comes to writing (i.e. a more formal choice)?
    – A-friend
    Oct 29, 2020 at 19:39
  • 1
    Essentially. Like I had mentioned, "stumble upon" is a better way to put it, and if you're writing formally, using a word like "stumble" seems more clumsy and less formal. Oct 29, 2020 at 19:45

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