The difference between “incidences” and “incidents”

Let’s say you’re in a meeting when suddenly the door bursts open and a clown comes dancing into the room. You might go home and talk about that incident over dinner. Let’s say it happens again the next day. At dinner, you might say, “I can’t believe there were two incidences of that clown interrupting the meeting!”

Not quite.

“Incidences” vs “incidents”

While the “incidents” and “incidence” do sound the same and in fact are quite similar, they’re not interchangeable. What’s the difference?

  • “Incidents” refers to two or more of the same event or occurrence – like the meeting room clown example above.
  • “Incidence” is a technical word that doesn’t have a plural form. It refers to the frequency or rate of something happening, and is often seen in the medical or scientific worlds – the rising incidence of polio in a city, for example.

When you’re trying to figure out the correct word to use in writing, it might be helpful to think of a (minor) car accident – the dent in the bumper can remind you of “incident” – the right word to use to describe a single event or occurrence.


Posted in Spelling & GrammarLanguage.

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