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 worked Richard 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 Kohl’s kicks off its second Black Friday sale today, Nov. 20 – the second of three special sales events that will happen throughout the month. Kaylee Remington, cleveland, 20 Nov. 2022 But the state decided about an hour later that the lethal injection would not happen that evening. Kim Chandler, BostonGlobe.com, 20 Nov. 2022 This week, Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told lawmakers that the transition to cleaner energy should not happen at the cost of people’s livelihoods and the country’s energy security. Mogomotsi Magome, ajc, 20 Nov. 2022 But the state decided about an hour later that the lethal injection wouldn't happen that evening. CBS News, 18 Nov. 2022 Matas’ murderer was caught, tried and imprisoned — but to understand how such a thing could happen. Scott Roxborough, The Hollywood Reporter, 18 Nov. 2022 Our experts use these stovetop cleaners at home for real world testing of all different kinds of sticky, heavy messes that can happen during dinnertime. Brigitt Earley, Good Housekeeping, 18 Nov. 2022 God started like allowing things to happen through me for the business. Essence, 18 Nov. 2022 Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, said the legislation’s wording on tax-exempt status doesn’t provide affirmative protection that such a loss wouldn’t happen in the future. Katy Stech Ferek, WSJ, 17 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'happen.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 1 Dec. 2022.

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

More from Merriam-Webster on happen

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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