On Accident Versus by Accident

Today I'm going to talk about on accident versus by accident and how language changes.

Mignon Fogarty,
June 30, 2016
Episode #523

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On accident

Some of the most difficult questions I get are from non-native English speakers who want to know why we use a particular preposition in a specific phrase. Why do we say I'm in bed instead of I'm on bed? Do people suffer from a disease or suffer with a disease? Are we in a restaurant or at a restaurant? I’m a native English speaker, so my first thought is usually something like, “I don't know why; in bed just sounds right,” and sometimes both options are correct.

Here's a question I hear regularly:

Hi Grammar Girl. This is Tom Kennedy from Pleasanton, CA. What is the deal with the term on accident? I've always used by accident, but I've noticed a lot of pretty smart people . . . I've noticed them using on accident. So, am I wrong?

Sometimes when I get questions like this I can find an answer, and sometimes I can't. In this case, I hit pay dirt!  I was lucky enough to find an entire research paper on the topic, published by Leslie Barratt, a professor of Linguistics at Indiana State University. 


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