It is easy to confuse “incidence” and “incidents” because they sound similar. They’re also both related to the idea of something happening. However, you won’t want to mix them up in your writing. Read on to learn how to use these words correctly.
Incidence (Rate of Occurrence Over Time)
“Incidence” is a noun that refers to the frequency with which something happens. We normally use it in connection with events that are unusual or unwelcome:
Italy has a low incidence of heart disease.
The city had a high incidence of gun crime.
The incidence of alleged UFO sightings has risen.
Less commonly, the word “incidence” refers to the striking of light on a surface:
In class, we are learning how to measure the angle of incidence.
This definition is mainly used in physics, particularly in the branch of optics.
Incidents (Plural of Incident)
The word “incident” means “a single instance of something happening.” Therefore, the plural form “incidents” simply means “more than one incident”:
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Five incidents of bullying were reported last week.
I will fully investigate each of the incidents.
We hope there will be no further incidents.
As with “incidence,” “incident” often refers to occurrences that are undesirable (e.g., crimes, accidents). Therefore, while you might write about incidents of shoplifting, it would be unusual to refer to incidents of buying new shoes!
Summary: Incidence or Incidents?
When deciding which of these words to use, remember:
Incidence is the frequency with which a (usually negative) event occurs.
Incidents is the plural of “incident,” so it means “multiple occurrences.”
One way to remind yourself which one to use is that “incidence” has the suffix “-ence,” which also appears in related words like “prevalence” (how common something is) and “recurrence” (a repeated occurrence). Moreover, “incidence” is a singular noun, while “incidents” ends in an “s” like most other English plurals.
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