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I saw this video while in 1:19 Sec I have heard so:

"I happen to be pro-life"

What does it mean? I have tried to find it on some dictionaries (Cambridge, Oxford and Merriam Webster) and I didn't find the meaning.

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    Obviously, being pro-life (anti-abortion) is a moral choice. It is no accident. The speaker is trying to de-emphasise the fact by suggesting that it is a matter of chance and therefore not something for anyone else to make an issue of. It is a pretence that he hopes others will go along with.
    – Mick
    Nov 13, 2016 at 21:51

2 Answers 2

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It's basically a less emphatic way of saying that someone is something. In other words:

He happens to be the sheriff in this town.

is more or less the same as:

He is the sheriff in this town.

Or:

She happens to be the dean of the college.

is pretty much the same as:

She is the dean of the college.

However, using happens to be instead of is implies some sort of coincidence or irony or causation. I wouldn't use happens to be instead of is unless the context called for it. For example:

"Wow, that guy just drove by fast!"
Well, he happens to be the town sheriff. I don't think he's worried about getting a speeding ticket.

Or:

"I see her taking the elevator up to the top floor every morning."
Well, she happens to be the dean of the college. Her office is up there.

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  • Thank you. Is this phrase always in present simple tense form, and then "she happened to be the dean of the college" is not correct? Nov 14, 2016 at 7:08
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    @Industrious - No, it can be used with any tense.
    – stangdon
    Nov 14, 2016 at 12:55
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I think JR’s explanation is excellent. I would just add that “to happen to be” is also used to convey seemingly tangential information, that is often, in reality, very important. As JR said, it’s a way of being less emphatic than saying “is”, as if the fact is just an interesting coincidence. However, IMO, it’s not a coincidence. The writer is strongly implying that what they “happen to be” is influencing what they are writing.

For example:

“An airline pilot would never try to land at that speed.”

Versus

“I happen to be a pilot, and an airline pilot would never try to land at that speed.”

Versus

“I am a pilot, and an airline pilot would never try to land at that speed.”

I think the writer saying “I happen to be a pilot” is trying to imply that saying she is a pilot adds weight to her opinion, but wants to suggest that the fact she is a pilot is tangential/coincidental to her opinion. I think writing “I am a pilot” suggests that the rest of her statement isn’t an opinion, but a fact.

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