Common Errors in English Usage: Fortuitous (adj), Fortunate (adj)

Here is a worksheet on differentiating between the adjectives fortuitous and fortunate. This is a full-page worksheet with ten modified cloze exercises that provide students an opportunity to use these words in a structured setting. You, however, can do with it as you wish, because like most things on Mark’s Text Terminal, this is a Microsoft Word document.

Confusing these two words remains one of the most common lapses in usage I see on a regular basis. Just the other day I received an email whose author used fortuitous when she meant fortunate. I suppose it’s the sound of these two words that makes them so easy to misuse. For the record, fortuitous means, simply, “occurring by chance.” Fortunate, on the other hand, means “bringing some good thing not foreseen as certain,” “receiving some unexpected good.” or, more simply, “lucky.” As the reading in this document points out, a car accident can be fortuitous in that it occurs by chance, but few people would characterize it as fortunate.

This is a contested area of usage. I’ll guess that if you looked up fortuitous in Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner would tell you that the use of fortuitous to mean fortunate has gained widespread acceptance in the American vernacular. Nonetheless, sticklers continue to emphasize the distinction limned above. What do you think? More importantly, what do your students think? Should a sharp distinction between these words continue to be observed? That’s an essential question in usage, I submit: how do words maintain their narrow meanings and therefore, arguably, their integrity?

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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