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Someone says this to a person who had a terminal illness:

"I’m ever so sorry sweetheart this had to happen to you."

I can understand ".....this happened to you." (WITHOUT 'HAVE TO'), but I wonder what kind of a change does "have to" make in the meaning of the sentence?

Does it emphasizes a meaning of "suprise" or "submission to the fate" or what?

2 Answers 2

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There's usually no significant allusion to "unavoidable misfortune" with the cited construction. Compare, for example,...

1: I'm sorry you had to hear that
...which nearly always means...
I'm sorry you happened to hear that
(you weren't supposed to hear it, but unfortunately you did).

The only reason you don't normally hear...

2: I'm sorry this happened to happen to you
...is because it's an ugly repetition. But a long time ago we might have said...
3: I'm sorry this chanced to befall you
...with exactly that implication.


TL;DR: Including had in the cited context usually makes no difference to the meaning. But it's idiomatically well-established for the context, and at I think at least some people (besides myself) would agree that if it is included, there's at least a slight implication that whatever happened, was heard or seen, etc. was an unlikely / unexpected / surprising / unfortunate accident.

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More or less. The implication of this construction is that the misfortune was unavoidable, and that the victim had no part in bringing it on. So it “had to happen to you.” Something bad that just “happens to you” might be a consequence of your own actions.

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  • I don't think "the misfortune was unavoidable" is normally implied by the usage. That looks to me like a "literal" reading of an idiomatically established form. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 17:10

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