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- Many / Much / A lot of / Lots of

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- So / Very

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- Sum / Amount

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- Deny / Refuse / Reject / Decline

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- Dedicated / Devoted

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- Accident / Incident

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- Fire in Anger

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- Archenemy

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- Large / Big

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- Foot / Feet

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- Afraid

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- 'Such as' / 'as such'

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- Quite

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- 'Made of' / 'made from'

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- Can we not?

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- Horrible / Horrific

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- Acting / Acting as

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- Standard / non-standard English

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- False friends - effective/efficient

accident
question





A question from Richard in China:

I would like to know the difference between 'accident' and 'incident'.

Thank you very much.



Answer




Ask about English

Mark Shea answers:

Hi Richard - I can see the confusion here - the words even sound nearly the same!

I think that the most important difference is that 'an accident' is something which happens purely by chance, there was no intention involved, and we can?t really use 'incident' like this.

If you do something by accident, you don't mean to do it, perhaps it's something you do or did without thinking.

Post-it notes, for example, are little sticky pieces of paper that we use to write notes on. And they were discovered by accident when a scientist, who was trying to make a very strong glue created a very weak one instead. He didn't mean to discover Post-it notes - he made them by accident.

We often use 'accident' to describe something unpleasant or unfortunate ?
"She had an accident while she was skiing and broke her leg."
It's especially common to use it when we are talking about traffic and vehicle collisions ...

"The car accident caused a big problem on the motorway."

'An incident' is much more general - we can use it to talk about almost anything that happens, any single event. If we were describing a particular time when something went badly wrong, we might talk about "the incident last summer" for example.
It might be something completely intentional - someone deliberately starting an argument ...

"We don't talk about politics at home since the incident last summer. Li was looking for an argument and brought up the subject of the recent elections."

We couldn't call the argument 'an accident' because Li started it deliberately.

We often say 'incident' when we don't want to mention what actually happened, or sometimes if we want to make an event sound less important. The police use 'incident' to talk about possible crimes, if they're not yet sure if a crime has been committed. It's quite common to hear:

"Police are looking into the incident."

It means that they are investigating to see if someone has committed a crime.

So the biggest difference is that accidents are never intentional, but incidents might be!

I hope this answers your question Richard.


Mark Shea has been a teacher and teacher trainer for fifteen years. He has taught English and trained teachers extensively in Asia and South America, and is a qualified examiner for the University of Cambridge oral examinations. He is currently working with journalists and is the author of the BBC College of Journalism's online English tutor.






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