Are You Fortunate or Fortuitous?

Here are two words that appear to share a root but do not, and are therefore often used interchangeably and therefore incorrectly: fortuitous and fortunate.

Fortunate comes from the Latin root fortunatus, meaning “prospered, prosperous; lucky, happy.”  Fortuitous, on the other hand, comes from the Latin root forte, which means “by chance.” The incident or coincident may be good or bad—fortunate or unfortunate. Both words convey the idea of luck or chance. With fortunate, the chance results in good luck or a happy outcome. With fortuitous, the outcome may be good or bad. It’s a matter of unplanned, accidental events coming together to create a desirable or undesirable outcome.

Take a look at these examples:

  • It was fortuitous [a chance happening] that Mom stopped by just after the babysitter canceled for the evening. Fortunately, she had no plans for the evening and was delighted to babysit her adorable grandchild.
  • A series of fortuitous events conspired against the timely sale of their home—rising interest rates, an earthquake, and their realtor’s lingering illness.

Beware of using fortuitous with words like accident or coincidence. Accidents or coincidences are always fortuitous—chance happenings. To speak of a fortuitous accident or a fortuitous coincidence is repeating the obvious or being redundant. You’re fortunate that I’m alerting you to this now before you make an unfortunate error.


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