Is 'on' still a preposition in the phrase 'on accident', or 'on purpose'? I have noticed Americans say 'on accident', where I would say 'by accident'.
Is on still a preposition in the phrase on accident, or on purpose? I have noticed Americans say on accident, where I would say by accident.
Yes, it is still a preposition. It's just the wrong preposition!
I can find one example in print, i.e.
However that seems to be a form of wordplay. Where have you seen or heard the phrase 'on accident' being used. Did you hear it in everyday conversation? In what kind of sentence?
I see in various comments people saying confidently that "on" is a preposition in "on accident" and "on purpose", but I don't see anyone giving evidence that this is actually true. How can you tell? Maybe it's a prefix, fulfilling a function similar to that of "-ally" in "accidentally" (which, after all, means "on accident").
The "accident" inside "accidentally" can't be preceded by an article or modified by an adjective, *"the-complete-accident ally", naturally, because you can't go inside a word and modify part of it, or put an article with part of it. So lets test "on accident": *"on the accident", *"on complete accident" are not acceptable. The "accident" inside "on accident" is not behaving as we would expect it to, if it were an independent word. That is evidence that "on accident" is not two independent words, even though it is written with an internal space in English orthography.
Notice that "by accident" is different, since "by complete accident" is fine, and similarly "by an accident of circumstances".
I will be looking forward to seeing some evidence from those of you who thought it was so obvious that the "on" in "on accident" and "on purpose" was a preposition.
My kids say "on accident" all the time. It drove me crazy at first, until I heard many of their friends using the same terminology.
A recent study by a bona fide linguist concludes that this is indeed generational:
A high-school English teacher asks which is correct: It happened on accident, or It happened by accident? A survey by linguist Leslie Barratt at Indiana State University indicates that most people born after 1990 use on accident, and weren’t even aware that by accident was proper, while those born before 1970 almost always say by accident.
You can hear the podcast at this website.
Another grammar site addressed this issue more than a decade ago, back in 1999:
I don't know where "on accident" comes from. My kids used to use this phrase all the time. "It's not my fault. It happened 'on accident'!" I thought it was a regional expression, something they picked up in southern New England, but it crops up all over. "By accident" is certainly the more common, standard expression. The preposition "on" seems to have imperialist tendencies, creeping into places — "standing on line, waiting on the bus" — where "in" and "for" were doing their job quite nicely.