I saw a sentence in a sample answer for the IELTS Writing task. The sentence is : "We can listen to news broadcasts about events as they happen." Does 'as' mean 'when' here? Is this sentence trying to express the 'events' that are taking place? So, why use "as they happen" instead of "as they are happening" ?

3 Answers 3


Because "as they happen" sounds like you'll hear immediately when an event begins. An event 'happens'; an ongoing situation is 'happening'. It's a better boast for a news service to sound like they can inform you immediately.

  • I can't see any logic to the idea that "as they happen" is more "immediate" than ""as they are happening". If anything, I'd have thought the continuous verb form carries stronger implications of ongoing. As in It's happening right now, rather than It happens right now. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 13:28
  • ...compare I live in London... and I am living in London... and consider which version is most likely to be followed by ...right now. I'd bet any money the continuous form is more likely in such an explicitly "currently ongoing" context. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 13:37
  • @FumbleFingers your example is not in any way comparable. Russia invading the Ukraine was an event that happened. The war in an event that is happening. News stations reported the invasion when it happened. They continue to report it happening.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 9:31
  • I don't understand what you're getting at there, and I certainly don't see how past tense verbs forms are relevant. My point is that the continuous has stronger allusions to right now, current than simple present - which I'd have thought is obvious, even if I didn't choose a very good example. Compare I eat meat (general statement; I'm not a vegetarian) and I am eating meat (description of what I'm doing right now). Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 12:23

"As events happen" means "whenever events happen" or "at the time events happen". The model here is that these events are instantaneous and right after an event happens, we can listen to a news broadcast about it.

"As events are happening" means "while the events are happening". The model here is that events take time, and we can listen to a news broadcast about the event while it is still happening.

While it would be great to always hear about news events while they're still happening, for most news events, it's over and we can only hear reports or watch footage of what happened in the past, so "whenever it happens" ("as it happens") makes more sense to describe news reporting than "while it's still happening" ("as it's happening").


As it happens, the first three words in this sentence can have a completely different sense (by chance, coincidentally), so I'll post a usage chart for a different term with the sense being queried here...

enter image description here

I don't really see any reason to "justify" the normal choice over and above the natural tendency of Anglophones to prefer simpler verb forms. Unless there's some specific context-related reason for using more complex forms, which doesn't apply with OP's question here.

To the extent that the continuous form is used at all in OP's context, I'd say that's the version which in principle should have stronger associations with "immediacy" (ongoing right now). But in most contexts that's not enough to override the default preference for simpler verb forms.

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