hap·​pen ˈha-pən How to pronounce happen (audio)
happened; happening ˈhap-niŋ How to pronounce happen (audio)

intransitive verb

: to occur by chance
often used with it
it so happens I'm going your way
: to come into being or occur as an event, process, or result
mistakes will happen
: to do, encounter, or attain something by or as if by chance
I happen to know the answer
: to meet or discover something by chance
happened upon a system that workedRichard Corbin
: to come or go casually : make a chance appearance
he might happen by at any time
: to come especially by way of injury or harm
I promise nothing will happen to you

Example Sentences

Something like that was bound to happen sooner or later. You never know what's going to happen when they get together. What happened at school today? “What's happening?” “They're installing new equipment.”
Recent Examples on the Web The one about not making my show and what was going to happen in my pilot. Juliana Ukiomogbe, ELLE, 17 May 2023 But when a part was out, the other parts did not necessarily know what was happening. Josh Fischman, Rebecca J. Lester, Scientific American, 17 May 2023 And when that happened, that was when the scenes were the best. Gerrad Hall, EW.com, 17 May 2023 More:Biden open to tougher work requirements for food stamps in debt-ceiling talks with Republicans What happens if the country defaults? Rachel Looker, USA TODAY, 16 May 2023 Whether that happens depends on how management views his progress — or lack thereof. Connor Letourneau, San Francisco Chronicle, 16 May 2023 The accident happened in a residential area near Conant Road, police said. Emily Sweeney, BostonGlobe.com, 16 May 2023 That happened Monday night, which meant the expansion proposal could be forwarded to the MLS board for final approval. Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 May 2023 Regardless of what happens in Tuesday's NBA Draft Lottery, which will be broadcast from Chicago on ESPN at 8 p.m., the Pacers can't really lose. Dustin Dopirak, The Indianapolis Star, 16 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'happen.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from hap

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of happen was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near happen

Cite this Entry

“Happen.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/happen. Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


hap·​pen ˈhap-ən How to pronounce happen (audio)
happened; happening ˈhap-(ə-)niŋ How to pronounce happen (audio)
: to occur or come about by chance
: to take place : occur
: to have occasion or opportunity
happened to overhear
: to meet or find something by chance
happened upon the right answer
: to appear casually or by chance
happened into the room just as the music started
: to come by way of injury or harm
nothing will happen to you

Middle English happenen "to occur by chance," from hap "chance, chance occurrence" — related to happy, mishap, perhaps

More from Merriam-Webster on happen

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