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Coincidental vs. Incidental — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on March 9, 2024
Coincidental events occur by chance without planning, whereas incidental events are secondary, arising as a minor consequence of something more significant.
Coincidental vs. Incidental — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Coincidental and Incidental


Key Differences

Coincidental events are those that happen by chance, without any intentional planning or causal connection. Incidental, on the other hand, refers to occurrences that are not central to the main event but happen as a side effect or minor consequence.
While coincidental events are marked by their lack of intentionality and causal relationship, incidental events are characterized by their minor or secondary nature. A coincidental meeting is unexpected and occurs by chance, whereas an incidental discovery is a byproduct of another activity.
The perception of coincidental events often leads to a sense of wonder or disbelief due to their random nature, while incidental events might not elicit as strong a reaction, given their role as side effects or minor aspects of a larger situation.
Both terms highlight different aspects of unplanned events. Coincidental emphasizes the randomness and lack of connection between the events, creating a sense of surprise. Incidental points to the secondary, often overlooked consequences that accompany primary actions or events.

Comparison Chart


Happening by chance without planning
Occurring as a minor consequence


Unplanned and unexpected
Secondary and arising as a side effect


None; purely by luck or chance
Not intended, but related to a main event

Impact on main event

None; unrelated to main event
Minor; supplements or results from a main event


Surprise or disbelief
Generally minimal surprise

Compare with Definitions


Happening by chance.
The coincidental meeting of two classmates in Paris was a pleasant surprise.


Secondary occurrence.
The incidental benefits of the new policy were widely appreciated.


Random occurrence.
The coincidental alignment of two events caused much speculation.


Arising as a side effect.
Incidental discoveries during the research were unexpectedly useful.


The coincidental encounter with a celebrity made their day unforgettable.


Minor consequence.
The incidental damage to the surrounding area was quickly repaired.


Their coincidental discovery of mutual interests led to a lasting friendship.


Related to something else.
The incidental costs were included in the final bill.


Lacking intention.
Their arrival at the same time was purely coincidental.


Not the main focus.
The incidental details of the story added depth to the characters.


Occurring as or resulting from coincidence.


Occurring or likely to occur as an unpredictable or minor consequence
"the principle that even annoying, intrusive, and offensive speech is to be protected by the courts and tolerated by the public as incidental to an open society" (Frederick Schauer).


Happening or existing at the same time.


Of a minor, casual, or subordinate nature
Incidental expenses.


Occurring as or resulting from coincidence.


A minor accompanying item or expense
A pocket in the suitcase for incidentals.


Happening or existing at the same time.


Loosely associated; of limited relevance except indirectly; only accident related.
That character, though colorful, is incidental to the overall plot.
Incidental evidence




Existing tangentially, being a byproduct, a tangent, or a likely consequence.
Injuries are incidental to contact sports: they're going to happen.


Occurring or operating at the same time;
A series of coincident events


Occurring by chance.


Entering or approaching, prior to reflection (more frequently incident).


Minor items, not further defined. Incidental expense.
She's costing us a lot in incidentals.


Something that is incidental.


Happening, as an occasional event, without regularity; coming without design; casual; accidental; hence, not of prime concern; subordinate; collateral; as, an incidental conversation; an incidental occurrence; incidental expenses.
By some, religious duties . . . appear to be regarded . . . as an incidental business.
I treat either or incidentally of colors.


An incident; that which is incidental; esp., in the plural, an aggregate of subordinate or incidental items not particularized; as, the expense of tuition and incidentals.


(frequently plural) an expense not budgeted or not specified;
He requested reimbursement of $7 for incidental expenses


An item that is incidental


(sometimes followed by `to') minor or casual or subordinate in significance or nature or occurring as a chance concomitant or consequence;
Incidental expenses
The road will bring other incidental advantages
Extra duties incidental to the job
Labor problems incidental to a rapid expansion
Confusion incidental to a quick change


Following as a consequence;
An excessive growth of bureaucracy, with related problems
Snags incidental to the changeover in management


Not of prime or central importance;
Nonessential to the integral meanings of poetry

Common Curiosities

How do coincidental events impact us?

Coincidental events often surprise or amaze us due to their unexpected nature.

What does incidental mean?

Incidental refers to something that happens as a minor part or consequence of something else.

What is an example of a coincidental event?

Meeting an old friend in an unexpected place is an example of a coincidental event.

Can something be both coincidental and incidental?

It's uncommon, as coincidental focuses on chance while incidental implies a connection to a larger event, though minor.

What does coincidental mean?

Coincidental refers to events that happen by chance, without any planning or deliberate intention.

Do coincidental events have a cause?

They occur by chance and do not have a deliberate cause.

Why are some events considered incidental?

Because they occur as a secondary outcome or minor part of a primary event.

Can planning prevent incidental outcomes?

Not always, as incidental outcomes can arise from unforeseen aspects of the main event.

Can incidental events be beneficial?

Yes, incidental outcomes can sometimes be unexpectedly beneficial.

What's an example of something incidental?

Discovering an old photo while searching for something else is incidental.

How can we differentiate between coincidental and incidental?

By determining if the event occurred by pure chance or as a secondary consequence of another action.

Is incidental always negative?

No, incidental can be neutral or positive, depending on the context and outcome.

How should one interpret incidental findings?

With caution, considering them in the context of their primary activity or focus.

Do people often confuse coincidental with incidental?

Yes, because both involve unplanned occurrences, but they differ in their relation to a main event and intentionality.

Are coincidental events rare?

They can be, given their nature of happening by sheer chance.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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