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I know three different ways of saying "coincidentally":

  • zufällig
  • zufälligerweise
  • per Zufall

But somehow I get the feeling, due to the reactions I get, that they are not always interchangeable, at least not in all situations.

Could someone give me a more detailed insight on in which situations one works better than the other, or in which situations they don't work at all?

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    The first one should be "zufällig"... "zufälliger" is an adjective meaning "random" or "coincidental" – Emanuel Nov 27 '14 at 11:15
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Yes. „zufällig“ is an adjective/adverb, as in:

Ich habe ihn zufällig getroffen. („I met him coincidentally“, used as adverb)
Die Verteilung der Ergebnisse ist zufällig („The distribution of the results is random“, used as adjective)

„zufälligerweise“ is an adverb:

Ich habe ihn zufälligerweise getroffen.
*Die Verteilung der Ergebnisse ist zufälligerweise

„per Zufall“ oder „durch Zufall“ can be translated as „by chance„, it can denote that something happens by chance or is done by using coincidence:

Ich habe ihn durch Zufall getroffen(I met him by chance)
Die Verteilung der Ergebnisse ist durch Zufall (bestimmt)
Ich habe ihn per Zufall getroffen
#Die Verteilung der Ergebnisse wird per Zufall bestimmt.

The second works with „bestimmt“ but might be understandable, yet awkward without. The fourth means that coincidence is the method to get results (like: „Die Lottozahlen werden durch Zufall bestimmt/ermittelt“).

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If you want to say that something happened coincidentally (by chance), you could use

  • zufällig
  • zufälligerweise
  • per Zufall

They are all adverbs (or adverb phrases), as they refer to a verb. Their meaning is roughly the same. Most of the time zufällig would be totally sufficient.

Example: Wir trafen uns zufällig. (We met coincidentally.)

zufälliger is an adjective. It refers to a noun. inflected for masculine gender in the nominal case. The translation would be coincidental, not coincidentally. Example: Ein zufälliger Wert. (A coincidental value.)

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