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When speaking of someone who lost their life as a result of accidental circumstances are the two phrases below interchangeable?

He was killed in an accident.


She died in an accident.

I've seen both used and I'm wondering if there is a rule here. Would we say was killed when the victim was affected by someone or something else? If so would we then say simple s/he died when the victim was the source of the accident?

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the more general principle is that killed is more likely to be associated with death caused by deliberate action. But since this context explicitly states the it was in an accident, that potential distinction can't apply - so they're interchangeable. –  FumbleFingers Feb 1 at 15:44
Interchangeable. Although, killed sounds more violent. It also has a air of "I'm upset that this person died." Died in an accident sounds more passive. –  David M Feb 2 at 5:08
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think 'killed in an accident' would be more likely if the person met their death instantly. However if they died two days later, then perhaps 'he died as a result of an accident' might be more the tone in which it would be reported. Whichever way, the death certificate (in Britain) and/or the coroner's report, would read 'accidental death'.

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Looking at the question you are asking and throwing in a little bit extra. I would say:

She died in an accident.

This is the simplest way to state it English. This construction is used for statements of fact. The victim died at 5:42pm.

he was killed in an accident.

This is more indirect, because the construction is passive. This makes it slightly more polite. See for instance this link for learners: http://pt.talkenglish.com/Grammar/active-passive-voice.aspx

They passed away in an accident.

Like many other languages, we have a verb that is considered a polite way of saying someone died -- specifically because it does not mention death or being killed directly. This is what will show up in many contexts like funerals.

So all three are interchangeable as to raw meaning but different in tone.

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Died is more euphemistic as compared to killed.

The president was killed in the accident at Southwest Avenue

has a sound of not showing much respect and/or not showing much importance hence trivial.

Where as

The president died in an accident at Southwest Avenue

shows more respect and hence euphemism.

It's analogous to the difference between Late Frank III and Dead Frank III.

Another example:

The terrorist was killed by the forces.

The forces died at the hands of the terrorist.

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