"on accident" vs. "by accident"

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Grammar Expert, Growing up my mother was adamant we use "by accident" and "on purpose" vice "on accident", which is quite common in my home town.  I met a middle school English teacher who wasn't familiar with my mother's rule.  Therefore, I'm now curious if it was my mother's personal preference or if she was following a grammar rule?  Please clarify. Thank you, D.J.

Prepositions asked Feb 19 '13 at 08:48 Djt Barber New member

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Djt, your mother was correct.  The preposition that goes with accident is by, not on.  By accident has the same meaning as the adverb accidentally or the prepositional phrase by chance

 

By the way, we don't use by accident, nor the other 2 synonyms I mentioned above, to refer to an unfortunate happening that causes injury, harm or loss; for that meaning, we use accident as a noun: She had a car accident, but she wasn't hurt.

 

I hope this helps.

link edited Feb 19 '13 at 13:34 Shawn Mooney Expert

Thanks for the clarification, but your answer has brought up a new question. I am trying to teach my child better grammar. So, when he says something like, "I broke the vase on accident." How do you recommend I correct him? I would normally say, "You broke the vase by accident or accidentally."

Djt BarberFeb 28 '13 at 00:55

Mr. Mooney,Do you have any official reference that states by is the preposition that goes with accident? I can't seem to find one. There are several articles stating that the change is just part of our changing language and that as people over 40 die off "on accident" will be the more acceptable phrase. If a professor, Leslie Barratt, Professor of Linguistics at Indiana State University, is willing to adapt and determine grammar is acceptable because it is more widely used, I seriously question our education system and whether the grammar rules have a firm foundation. Are grammar rules rules or personal preferences? I'm open to answers from any and all grammar experts.

Djt BarberMar 01 '13 at 17:57

For the record, linguists are descriptivists by nature whereas grammarians are prescriptivists by nature. Linguist describe changes in language over time whereas grammarians are about formalism. There are many changes occurring in English, such as neologisms like "irregardless" or using "lay" instead of "lie" as the present tense intransitive verb (lay is the past tense of lie, but is also its own transitive verb). Linguists would merely document such changes, never making a claim on what is "right" or "wrong." Here is why I mention all of this: If we're engaging in a discussion of what is or is not correct grammatically, we are by necessity moving into the realm of prescriptivism. As such, linguists aren't really the ones you should be looking to for a clear, concise answer. It is true that "on accident" will gain greater acceptance, just as I'm sure "irregardless" and "I could care less" will gradually become normalized in vernacular English. As far as professional, formal writing is concerned, however, "by accident" will remain grammatically correct while "on accident" will merely be accepted in colloquial speech.

Sean CDec 17 '13 at 15:51

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Just because a study shows that people are doing something that does not mean that that "something" is correct.  Studies also show that 40% of the population is situationaly ethical, meaning that they will be unethical if they can get away with it. Does that make being unethical okay? Should we just adapt to changing ethics? I doubt that you would agree.

 

More than this, you should read the paper yourself, it is actually quite short and is available here: http://www.inst.at/trans/16Nr/01_4/barratt16.htm.

 

If you review her methodolgy you will see that she conducted a small survey in four states (a total of 269 participants in all), and the majority of her sample are from lower income areas. Additionally, she does not state anywhere in her paper that she is willing to adapt to the change, she merely explores the phenomena. Personally, while I appreciate her efforts as a preliminary foray into the subject, I find her methodology, expecially her population sample, to be questionable and I would not accept her findings without seeing them subjected to retesting with a more representative sample of the US population, in a controlled study.

 

As to your question of resources, neither I, nor any of the resources that I have consulted, have found any other resources that specifically list "by" as the preposition to use with the word accident, however, every example  in every reference book that I have consulted does employ the preposition "by" in their examples of sentences using the word accident. I have not seen one example of a grammar reference using the preposition "on" in conjunction with the word accident. I personally cringe everytime I hear someone say "on accident". It is a documented fact that our educational system is failing and I suspect the explosion of the use of "on accident" is a reflection of the degradation of the U.S. educational system, and the failure of parents to correct their children because they themselves are products of a poor educational system. There is nothing wrong with insisting that your children use proper grammar and I applaud your desire to ensure that your children speak properly. I have always considered it part of my responsiblity as a mother to ensure that my child use proper grammer.

link comment answered Jul 12 '13 at 22:14 Tina Van Rikxoord New member
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"Expecially"? Run-on sentences? "Grammer"? I hope you are not teaching by example.

link answered Jul 16 '13 at 01:40 Sharky New member

Might have been intended for irony's sake. If we're to accept certain forms of linguistic change (such as the growing prevalence of "on accident"), we are obliged to do the same for alternate spellings of words as they, too, become more commonplace. As well as the dastardly "could of."

Sean CDec 17 '13 at 15:55

We should absolutely accept new spellings of words; "could of" is not merely an alternate spelling, but the use of a different word, from a different grammatical category, due to confusion based on phonetic similarity.

TimFeb 21 at 14:42

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"Expecially"? Run-on sentences? "Grammer"? I hope you are not teaching by example.

link comment answered Jul 16 '13 at 01:40 Sharky New member
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Stop comparing grammar to morality.

link comment answered Feb 21 at 14:41 Tim New member

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