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Is there any difference between the following sentences, respectively?

“It so happens that today is my birthday.” -- Today is my birthday.

“I happen to have exactly what you need.” -- I have exactly what you needed.

“I happen to know that it is 15 miles to the train station.” -- I know that it is 15 miles to the train station.

If yes, what is it? If no, why is there a structure like that?

  • They are all different sentences. What research have you done? – Lambie Jun 11 '19 at 16:52
  • @Lambie I see nothing more than happen to's dictionary meaning, – snr Jun 11 '19 at 17:17
  • You can search for: it so happens that – Lambie Jun 11 '19 at 17:26
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Essentially, no (they aren't different).

The phrase "happens" is used for saying that something is true, although it is surprising that it is true. Source You could similarly say:

Coincidentally, it's my birthday today.

Although it's worth noting that:

Coincidentally, it happens to be my birthday today.

Is also valid.

Interestingly, the phrase "it happens" can also mean "don't worry about it". Source

  • Also, I just had to mention that you missed a trick by not calling this post "To infinitive, and beyond" – Bee Jun 11 '19 at 15:44
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There's not really much difference between these sentences -- not when it comes to the information they actually convey, anyway. Today is my birthday, whether I say it happens to be, or just that it is.

Which brings us to the question of why a structure like this exists. Well, because language is an imprecise and constantly evolving tool and sometimes we have more than one way to say the same thing. No two phrases are exactly equal, though, and changes in wording can "feel" different even when they mean the same thing. The addition of "happen"/"happens" in this sort of sentence implies some sort of coincidence. I happen to have exactly what you need, not because I knew you would need it, but because I always carry it with me, or got it for some other reason, but by luck I have it here now.

However, this phrase is so often used tongue-in-cheek that it's often used when there is no coincidence at all. It has a much friendlier sound to it. Sometimes being too direct with your wording can come across as a little aggressive, and this particular construction is a common choice for how to soften it up a little.

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