As the United States has struggled with catastrophic hurricanes, wildfires and mass shootings, I’ve heard people stumble over the use and pronunciation of incident and incidents, and of incidence (a valid word) and incidences (not a valid word in plural form).
The following definitions and examples will help you tell the difference.
incident: a noun meaning an event or occurrence; synonyms are episode, happening, escapade, occasion, adventure, proceeding, circumstance, development
These examples show how to use incident and incidents:
The incident occurred at 11:18 p.m.
He has changed since the incident.
The days following the fire passed without incident.
She witnessed a number of frightening incidents last year.
He had several traffic incidents in his youth.
She had five horse-related incidents this riding season.
Now consider incidence, incidental and incidentally.
incidence: a noun meaning the occurrence, rate or frequency of a disease, crime, weather catastrophe or something else undesirable; synonyms are prevalence, amount, degree, extent
These examples show how incidence differs from incidents:
California has a high incidence of wildfires.
Men have a higher incidence of hair loss than do women.
The incidence of polio has dropped by over 99% since 1988.
Note that incidence is singular in each example; it has no plural form.
These examples define and show how to use incidental and incidentally:
incidental: adjective that means accompanying but not a major part of something; by chance, by accident, fortuitously, by a fluke, by happenstance
I have an expense account for business travel, but I pay incidental costs myself.
Development of the polio vaccine was incidental to Dr. Jonas Salk’s original goal: to develop a flu vaccine.
Citing sources is not incidental to your research paper; sources confirm the validity of your findings.
incidentally: an adverb used when a person has something more to say about or adds a remark not connected to the subject; in an incidental manner, as a chance occurrence
Incidentally, Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine, neither patented it or nor accepted compensation for its discovery beyond his salary as a researcher.
My sister, incidentally, had a bad reaction to the flu shot she got last week.
Note the pronunciation:
in-ci-DEN-tal-ly (5 syllables), not in-ci-DENT-ly (4 syllables)
I hope this post helps those who struggle with words used to describe an incident; multiple incidents; incidence, the rate of occurrence of incidents; and incidentally, something not relevant to a subject under discussion.
Are there words you hear misused or mispronounced? Let me know in the comments section below or by email.Like it? Share it!