Here’s a grammar refresher for you: adverbs are words that modify verbs. Many adverbs end in the suffix –ly, such as thankfully, gracefully and adamantly.
When you did something in an unintended or accidental manner, the adverb you use is accidentally — or is it accidently? If you’ve ever heard this word spoken aloud, you may wonder whether you should spell this term as accidentally or accidently.
Unlike good night vs. goodnight wherein a spelling variation is possible, this isn’t the case with accidentally vs. accidently. Many grammar experts say that there’s only one correct way to spell this word.
What is Accidentally?
Before we get to the correct spelling, let’s first get the definition of “accidentally.” This term simply means “by chance” or “by mistake.”
Here are a few examples:
- I accidentally accepted an invite for a group interview.
- This lock prevents the entryway from opening accidentally.
- She bumped into him accidentally on purpose. (Note: this means that she bumped into him intentionally, but tried to make the scene look like an accident)
- I forgot to proofread my work. I accidentally wrote capitol instead of capital in my research paper.
According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word “accidentally” was in the 14th century.
On the other hand, the first known use of “accidently” was in the 15th century. The adverb “accidently” has been in use since the 18th century. Although this word continues to show up regularly in published writing, it is far less common than the word “accidentally.” Some people cite this word as an error.
Which is Right: Accidentally or Accidently?
The correct word you should use is accidentally. Accidently is a common misspelling of accidentally.
A lot of people confuse these two words. The confusion most likely stems from the fact that some individuals incorrectly pronounce accidentally. This mispronunciation causes them to spell “accidently.”
If you’re unsure which word is used more often, take a look at the relative usage of both accidentally and accidently since the 1800s. When you look at the chart generated by Google Ngram Viewer, you will find that the word “accidentally” is much more common than “accidently.” It’s approximately 56 times more common. Given this, you’ll want to make sure that you have the right spelling because your audience or reader will likely notice the difference.
Why is the Word “Accidentally” the Correct Spelling?
You may be wondering why accidentally is the correct word and not accidently. After all, the solution is as simple as adding the suffix “-ly” to accident, right?
This is a common grammar misconception in the English language. You cannot turn a noun into an adverb by adding the suffix “-ly.” Adverbs cannot modify nouns. The word “accident” is a noun that refers to an unplanned event that sometimes has undesirable or inconvenient consequences.
You may argue, “But some nouns turn into a new word when you add the suffix -ly.” If you’re going to add the adverb-forming suffix to certain nouns, that word will turn into an adjective.
Here are a few examples to demonstrate this point:
- Man (noun) + “-ly” (suffix) = Manly (adjective, denoting or having qualities traditionally associated with men)
- Friend (noun) + “-ly” (suffix) = Friendly (adjective, pleasant and kind)
- Home (noun) + “-ly” (suffix) = Homely (adjective, unattractive in appearance)
So how do you form the word “accidentally?” Rather than use the word “accident,” you use the word “accidental,” an adjective that means happening by chance or unexpectedly. You can create adverbs from adjectives.
Apart from accidentally, here are other examples:
- Incidental (adjective) + “-ly” (suffix) = Incidentally (adverb, used when an individual has something more to say or wants to add a remark not connected with the current subject or conversation)
- Thankful (adjective) + “-ly” (suffix) = Thankfully (adverb, used to express relief or pleasure at an outcome or situation that one is reporting)
- Vigorous (adjective) + “-ly” (suffix) = Vigorously (adverb, in a way that involves energy, effort and physical strength)
The Dictionary Argument
Another argument that you could put forward on the accidentally vs. accidently debate is, “But the word accidently appears in a few dictionaries as a variant. Surely it’s OK for me to use it instead of accidentally, right?”
Dictionaries are descriptive documents. If a misspelled word becomes common, it will undoubtedly find its way into a dictionary somewhere. This doesn’t mean, though, that a word becomes OK to use when it becomes popular. What’s more, an entry in a dictionary does not necessarily make a word immediately acceptable to educated readers.
Rather than rely on a single dictionary, choose a respected usage guide, such as Garner’s Modern American Usage. Use reliable guides to determine how you should (or should not) spell words. These guides will also tell you which variant spellings are preferable, and why.
Remember that accidentally is the correct spelling — and accidently is the wrong one. You don’t put the “-ly” suffix on a noun. Instead, it’s added to an adjective. By taking note of the relationship between the adverb and adjective versions of the word “accident,” you can easily recall that accidentally is the proper adverb form