I was doing a CAE Practice Test on Use of English (It is a multiple choice exercise) when I came across the following example:

Her life was cut tragically short. She ______ a horrific accident at the National Air Show in Ohio in the USA, when her plane crashed through the roof of a building

In the gap you need to choose between underwent and suffered.

Both of these collocate with accident according to ludwig.guru: 1) suffered, 2. underwent

However, the answer key suggests suffered as the only possibility.

Why can't the latter work as well?

  • With underwent, the first two sentences on Ludwig.guru are the same source and same sentence. From the New Yorker: All she had to do was undergo a terrible accident. It's probably a joke - hard to tell without context - but it's not normal. The rest are clearly different and more remote as collocations. (For one, you might well undergo surgery as a result of an accident.) I'd try a dictionary first, if I were you; it's more likely to give you a precise answer.
    – tmgr
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 15:21
  • You ordinarily choose to undergo something, whereas you normally would choose to avoid suffering something if you could.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented May 1, 2021 at 17:57
  • These Google 4-grams {suffered a terrible accident,underwent a terrible accident} more faithfully show collocation strength here. 'Underwent' is non-standard or close. Commented May 1, 2021 at 18:51

1 Answer 1


The difference here is one of affect, which used as a noun is a psychological term for "the emotion associated with an idea or set of ideas."

One can undergo any process, including an accident, but the tenor of the example makes it clear that whoever is relating the tale has a distinct opinion about it. The pilot's accident was a catastrophe (her life was cut "tragically short," the accident was "horrific"), and so the neutral verb underwent might seem out of place, or even somewhat comical, in that sentence. Coupling "tragically" and "horrific" with "suffered" creates a concordance that reinforces the notion that the accident was a very bad thing.

  • If correct, this can't be the whole story. 'She had a terrible accident' is also idiomatic. It's the associations with a drawn-out process and to an extent optionality in my opinion (but the ludicrous is a factor). Commented May 1, 2021 at 18:56

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