grammatical word: happen

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Today’s word, “happen” is yet another example of a word which has more than one meaning that many people don’t know about. Of course, the first meaning is for some kind of situation to take place. For example:

Something really interesting happened today at my office.

Has anything new happened with the ABC project?

However, we can also use happen when asking questions to people, but when we use happen in the question, it means that we think it’s less likely that the person has the information or thing we want. For example:

Do you happen to know where I can find German beer in this city?

Do you happen to know when the last train leaves?

Do you happen to have a tape measure? I need to measure something.

Do you happen to have an extra copy of that book? I’d really like to read it.

So, in these examples, the person says “happen” in the question because they think it’s not so likely the person knows where to find German beer, knows when the last train leaves, has a tape measure or has an extra copy of the book; however, they are asking the question anyway on the slim chance the person can help them.

If we think it’s more likely or even probable that the person can help us, we don’t use “happen”. For example:

Do you know where I can find German beer in this city?

Do you know when the last train leaves?

Do you have a tape measure? I need to measure something.

Do you have an extra copy of that book. I’d really like to read it.

We can use “happen” in the past tense in regular sentences to describe a situation that occurred by chance. For example:

When I was shopping for my mother’s birthday present, I happened to find a really nice shirt that fit me, so I bought it.

I wasn’t trying to listen to your conversation. I just happened to overhear you say that you’re going to quit your job. Why are you going to do that?

By saying “happen” in these sentences, the person is stressing that the situation occurred by accident.

We can also use “happen” in the present tense when we want to emphasize something and make another person aware of it. For example:

A: I really don’t like lawyers.

B: Oh really? Well, I happen to be a lawyer!

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A: Did you taste this pie? It’s really bad.

B: That just so happens to be my pie!

In these cases, person B is offended by person A’s remark and wants to make them aware of it, so they use “happen” for emphasis.

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