What is the difference between in accident and on accident?

Do we say, He lost his legs on accident or in accident?

  • 2
    We say: "He lost his legs in an accident." Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 14:30
  • @MarkBeadles I have read the link before posting but that question does not explain 'in' use. so its not duplicate, Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 5:52
  • @michael.hor257k Your comment is correct; you should make it an answer. Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 12:46

1 Answer 1


There are a few things going on here, but the simple answer is it depends on if you emphasising the way that he lost his legs, or emphasising the manner in which he lost his legs.

In the first case you would say he lost his legs in an accident.

In the second you would say "he lost his legs by accident", though it generally goes without saying that someone didn't deliberately lose their legs!


I believe you can say 'He lost his legs in accident' similar to 'You have been charged for this transaction in error', but it's very formal, and puts me in mind of a letter from your bank. The emphasis of this one is the same as "he lost his legs in an accident".

The one thing you can't say as far as I'm aware is on accident, because on accident is not an adverb phrase.

Adverb Phrases

You can't say that he lost his legs on accident, but you can say that he lost them on purpose. The reason for this is that on purpose is an adverb phrase that can be used in place of an adverb.

An adverb phrase is a set of multiple words that act in place of an adverb. So you can say "he lost his legs deliberately", or "he lost his legs on purpose", and in those examples deliberately and on purpose serve the same function. Other examples of adverb phrases include on purpose, on time, or on a whim.

Adverb phrases can be tricky, because they're cultural, and you need to just know which ones are valid on a case by case basis!

I hope that helps.

  • 1
    I'd be careful with by accident......
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 17:13

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