noun cir·cum·stance \ˈsər-kəm-ˌstan(t)s, -stən(t)s\

Definition of circumstance

  1. 1a :  a condition, fact, or event accompanying, conditioning, or determining another :  an essential or inevitable concomitant <the weather is a circumstance to be taken into consideration>b :  a subordinate or accessory (see 2accessory 2) fact or detail <cost is a minor circumstance in this case>c :  a piece of evidence that indicates the probability or improbability of an event (as a crime) <the circumstance of the missing weapon told against him> <the circumstances suggest murder>

  2. 2a :  the sum of essential and environmental factors (as of an event or situation) <constant and rapid change in economic circumstance — G. M. Trevelyan>b :  state of affairs :  eventuality <open rebellion was a rare circumstance> —often used in plural <a victim of circumstances>c circumstances plural :  situation with regard to wealth <he was in easy circumstances> <rose from difficult circumstances>

  3. 3 :  attendant formalities and ritualistic display especially as contrasted with essential procedure <pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war — William Shakespeare>

  4. 4 :  an event that constitutes a detail (as of a narrative or course of events) <considering each circumstance in turn>

Examples of circumstance in a sentence

  1. I can't imagine a circumstance in which I would do that.

  2. The circumstances of his death are suspicious.

  3. She says that her client is a victim of circumstance and should not be blamed for the accident.

  4. He was a victim of circumstances.

Origin and Etymology of circumstance

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin circumstantia, from circumstant-, circumstans, present participle of circumstare to stand around, from circum- + stare to stand — more at stand

First Known Use: 13th century

Synonym Discussion of circumstance

occurrence, event, incident, episode, circumstance mean something that happens or takes place. occurrence may apply to a happening without intent, volition, or plan <an encounter that was a chance occurrence>. event usually implies an occurrence of some importance and frequently one having antecedent cause <the events following the assassination>. incident suggests an occurrence of brief duration or secondary importance <a minor wartime incident>. episode stresses the distinctiveness or apartness of an incident <a brief romantic episode in a life devoted to work>. circumstance implies a specific detail attending an action or event as part of its setting or background <couldn't recall the exact circumstances>.

CIRCUMSTANCE Defined for English Language Learners


noun cir·cum·stance \ˈsər-kəm-ˌstan(t)s, -stən(t)s\

Definition of circumstance for English Language Learners

  • : a condition or fact that affects a situation

  • circumstances : the way something happens : the specific details of an event

  • : an event or situation that you cannot control

CIRCUMSTANCE Defined for Kids


noun cir·cum·stance \ˈsər-kəm-ˌstans\

Definition of circumstance for Students

  1. 1 :  a fact or event that affects a situation <Illness is the only circumstance that will excuse your absence.>

  2. 2 circumstances plural :  conditions at a certain time or place <Under the circumstances, I think we did well.>

  3. 3 circumstances plural :  the way something happens <Please explain the circumstances of the accident.>

  4. 4 circumstances plural :  the conditions in which someone lives <“When the Lord puts us in certain circumstances He doesn't mean for us to imagine them away.” — Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables>

  5. 5 :  an uncontrollable event or situation <a victim of circumstance>

Law Dictionary


noun cir·cum·stance

Legal Definition of circumstance

  1. 1a :  a condition, fact, or event accompanying, conditioning, or determining another <must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake — Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 9(b)> b :  a piece of evidence that indicates the probability or improbability of an event <a statement…offered to exculpate the accused is not admissible unless corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement — State v. Lopez, 764 P.2d 1111 (1988)>

  2. 2 pl :  situation with regard to wealth <the circumstances of the parties before the divorce>

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up circumstance? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


related through a mother

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

  • m-ws-new-words-quiz
  • Which word means "inability to recognize faces"?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.