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The word "happen" is used for activities, events, accidents, and surprises. It’s kind of a tricky verb to use, so you really have to study it. First, let’s listen to the way "happen" is used with the word "what." Remember: When a question word serves as the "subject," don’t use a helping verb.

  • What happened? (Ask this question when you first learn that there’s a problem.)
  • What happens here every day? (Use this kind of a question for general activity.)
  • What happens if I put these two things together? (Ask this kind of a question when considering possibility.)

In the next set of questions, use a helping verb because the question word is not the subject:

  • When did that happen? (The word "that" is the subject in the question.)
  • Where does this usually happen?
  • How can this happen?
  • Why hasn’t that happened yet?

The word "happen" is often used in the present tense, the past tense, and the future tense:

  • That happened yesterday. (past tense)
  • This happens every day. (present tense)
  • It won’t happen until tomorrow. (future tense, negative)

"Happen" is also found in many expressions:

  • Hey, what’s happening? (Hi. How are you?)
  • This can’t be happening. (This is really bad.)
  • We have to make this happen. (We have to work hard to be successful.)
  • This party is not happening. Let’s go. (This is not fun or exciting.)
  • That is not going to happen. (I will do anything to prevent that.)

Watch this video for more examples of how to use the word "happen" for past activities:


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This page was first published on July 23, 2012. It was updated on March 8, 2015.



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