You know the drill. You get to work, and your best work friend grabs your arm and whispers, “Did you hear about the “incident”? You know it’s time for some exciting gossip, so you grab your coffee and settle down.
It is correct to say “incidents” when discussing problematic situations. It is like telling someone about a particular case or scenario: “Did you hear about the incidents at work?” “Incidents” can be a euphemistic term suggesting that one is about to share some interesting or shocking news.
Keep reading to learn more about the different meanings behind the term and where you can use it most effectively.
What Does “Incidents” Mean?
“Incident” is a noun that refers to an event or situation taking place. The plural form is “incidents.” In a sentence, it can refer to just that. However, you can also use it euphemistically to refer to something scandalous which has taken place.
When you use it in a regular sentence, you just focus on the event or occurrence, which is generally negative in nature.
- There was an incident in the workshop today.
- There were multiple shoplifting incidents today.
- I can’t believe what he said about the incident!
As a euphemism, there is no real change in how you use the word. It is still a noun, but the term implies that something scandalous or salacious took place, and you cannot discuss that.
When you speak, you might put a specific emphasis or stress on the word to show that it is out of the ordinary usage. In text form, it is often written with italics or quotation marks to indicate emphasis.
- Did you hear about the incident in the break room?
- I can’t believe she spoke about the “incident” to him!
- The “incident” is infamous in the town.
“Incidents” vs. “Incidence”
“Incidents” has a distinctly different meaning from “incidence.” While the two sound quite similar and are both nouns, “incidence” refers to an event’s rate, while “incidents” refers to several specific circumstances.
You cannot simplify it to say that “incidence” is the plural form of “incident” because their focus is quite different. “Incidence” refers to how often an event or occurrence takes place. Let’s examine an example sentence:
- There has been an increased incidence of measles in unvaccinated children.
This sentence shows that the number of measles cases has increased, and “incidence” is synonymous with “cases.”
“Incidence,” like “incident,” is more likely to appear negatively and explain the rates of unpleasant events taking place.
How Do You Use “Incidents”?
You use “incidents” as a noun; therefore, it can function as the subject or object of a sentence. In addition, you can combine it with a verb or adjective, which can appear at any one point in a sentence, though it is unlikely to be the first word to start the sentence.
This is because “incidents” refers to a specific situation, and it needs a definite or indefinite article ahead of it, like “the” or “an.” However, it does not require an article only when the incident belongs to someone.
- There was an incident at the party.
- Edward did not understand the incident, but it seemed to be his fault.
- Elizabeth was still in the hospital after her unfortunate incident.
“Incident” is a very open-ended term; hence, it’s a practical euphemistic expression. It relies on the audience to fill in the blank about what the incident entails.
In the first example sentence above, “There was an incident at the party,” there are several possible scenarios that you could suggest. For example, the “incident” could be a fight, someone getting very drunk, an injury, or the police could have busted the party.
When Can You Use “Incidents”?
You can use “incidents” when referring to an adverse event. However, it does not have to be in the past tense and can function in both the present and future as well. However, that usage is more rare.
Here are some examples of “incidents” in the past, present, and future tenses:
- The incidents took place last week.
- The incidents are taking place behind us as we watch.
- This is going to create problematic incidents.
Euphemistically, you can use “incident” to describe a situation you do not want to explain to your listener or audience. This can be because you feel uncomfortable discussing the case, or it can be a way of purposefully misleading your audience.
Looking at written and verbal news reports, you will find that the word “incident” is quite common. This is because you can use it to hide the nature of the crime or action.
For example, imagine you are a teenager who just got into an accident in your parents’ car. You might come home and try to explain with something like, “Dad, an incident took place today with your car.”
The word does not provide any information about the situation and generally requires some elaborating to get to the truth. In a news report, it is easy to hide negative events like that.
For example, imagine a news report that says, “A gender reveal caused an incident in California.” Without any further information, this can hide the fact that a pyrotechnic set off in California started a wildfire that blazed for 23 days in 2021.
Using “Incidents” in a Full Sentence
“Incidents” is not a standalone word. Instead, you have to use it as part of a sentence, and while the singular form cannot start a sentence, the plural form can start the sentence.
The word generally requires an article preceding or an adjective describing where or how the situation occurred, which will still need a definite or indefinite article.
- The incidents were ugly ones.
- The Diana incident would haunt them forever.
- Incidents were taking place in every boarding house.
A common error in English writing is distinguishing between plurals and possessive forms. If you’d like to learn more about their differences, read Company’s or Companies: Plural vs. Possessive.
When Not to Use “Incidents”
You should not use “incidents” when referring to a favorable situation. You should also not use it when referring to just one situation, not multiple ones. The singular form cannot start a sentence.
Incorrect example sentences:
- Her proposal was an incredible incident.
- There was many incident of drug abuse at the school.
- Incident took place last night.
If you need clarification on the word or are trying to decide when to use it, you can use another word instead.
What Can You Use Instead of “Incidents”?
You can use several words as synonyms for “incidents.” Words like “situations,” “events,” and “scenarios” have similar meanings.
However, the words don’t have the same euphemistic meaning unless heavily suggested by tone. Also, the terms do not have the same negative connotation as “incidents.” You can also use these for positive situations.
- The incidents were terrible.
- The situations were terrible.
- The events were terrible.
The denotations of the words can be slightly different. For example, “events” refers to a particular (and somewhat unique) situation, while “incidents” can be any kind of scenario.
“Incidents” is an interesting word as it has a suffix at the end.
A noun suffix is a suffix added to the end of a root word to modify its meaning. Sometimes it also changes the part of speech of the root word (source).
Take the root word “bad.” It is an adjective that describes the behavior of someone or the state of something. When you add the suffix “-ly” to create the word “badly,” the meaning changes significantly. It is an adverb that describes the way something happens.
In the word “incidents,” “incident” is the root word, and the suffix “-s” is added to it to turn it into a plural. “-s” is one of the most common suffixes in the English language.
However, in the word “incidence,” you use a different suffix that changes the root word’s form. The suffix “-ence” is added to “incident,” completely changing the word to “incidence.” The suffix “-ence” shows an action or process (source).
While both “incidents” and “incidence” are nouns, the addition of “-ence” shows how “incidence” actually points to the way that you use it. It shows the rate of something taking place.
Noun Inflection Case and Number
Noun inflections refer to the specific stress given to a word to change its meaning. This is not a common element in English, as the spelling of most words indicates the plurality or tense.
In English, the addition of “-s” shows the plural case, like in “incidents.” While English is probably one of the most confusing languages due to the sheer number of spelling and pronunciation discrepancies, it does not rely on a lot of inflection for meaning (source).
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
However, you can use inflection on “incidents” to make the term more euphemistic. It doesn’t change the meaning, but it suggests something scandalous.
“Incidents” is one of those words you find using quite often. Unfortunately, due to the pronunciation, it is often confused with “incidence.” It’s important to note that they have different meanings, and you use them in different contexts.
The easiest way to distinguish between them is that “incidents” is the plural form of “incident,” referring to multiple situations. “Incidence” refers to the rate or occurrence of something taking place.