When I was writing notes for chapter 2 of "Treasure Island" as part of my studying for my upcoming English exam, I wrote, winter is when the happenings of chapter 2 take place. I quickly scrubbed it out and placed incidents rather than happenings. Then I thought to myself, is it ok to use "happenings" with an "s" instead of incidents. So I went to a thesaurus and checked that "happening" is one of the synonyms of "incident". So my question is can I use "happening" with an "s" as in "happenings" as a synonym for "incident"?

  • Synonyms are not identical twins, but siblings. Happenings is a vague term for the actions in an adventure novel. Incidents is closer. Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 13:42
  • thanks but this wasn't my question.
    – Amro
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 14:45

1 Answer 1


You are unlikely to come across a reputable dictionary not giving just the bland and obvious

  • 'happening: something that happens / has happened; an event / occurrence'

definition for the primary sense. And then the 'extravaganza' sense.

This is misleading, not reflecting the restrictions found with the use of 'happening/s'.

Collins Cobuild rightly gives a caveat:

  • Happenings are things that happen, often in a way that is unexpected or hard to explain.

There can also be a sense that the events are amusing and/or interesting/exciting. I'd say that this is true for for chapter 2 of "Treasure Island". Yes, 'happenings' works here, while 'incidents' somehow seems out of register for a historical reference. But note that most people would use 'events' here.

In passing, Cobuild classes 'happening/s' as a count noun. I dispute this, as '3/17/a couple of happenings' isn't idiomatic. But it can certainly be used in singular or plural form.

  • Thank you Mr.Ashworth. I understood the second paragraph but I didn't quite understand the last one could you please explain it a bit more? (and just a side note, I had an English teacher once who also had Ashworth as his last name. It looks like your family is high up in the English education stands.)
    – Amro
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 17:43
  • Perhaps a good place to start is here. // This answer goes deeper. // And this answer is comprehensive and correspondingly difficult. Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 19:31

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