Biden and Xi agreed to Blinken’s trip early at a meeting last year in Bali. It came within a day of happening in February but was delayed by the diplomatic and political tumult brought on by the discovery of what the U.S. says was a Chinese spy balloon flying across the United States that was shot down.

Source: AP

Why should the word happening be used here? It seems to me that it can be removed altogether without harming the meaning of the sentence. I am not sure. Maybe it is using it to emphasize something that I fail to notice.

Can it be deleted? Does the happening refer to the meeting between Joe and Xi?

  • 1
    "Can it be deleted?" What do you think the sentence would look like then? It would help if you gave us your new version of the sentence and why you think it is correct.
    – stangdon
    Jun 18, 2023 at 12:03
  • 5
    No. The word happening is required here. You can't omit it. It wouldn't make sense. There is nothing wrong with the sentence, and it doesn't need to be corrected. "happening" is almost synonymous with the word "occuring" in this context. It talks about an event which was going to happen, but didn't because of a diplomatic incident.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 18, 2023 at 12:51
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    Maybe you looked up happening in a dictionary and saw that it is a noun meaning something like "event". In this case, however, it is a form of the verb "to happen". If it were used as a noun, then it would be "it came within a day of the happening", and even then, the meaning would be unclear without further context: "it" refers to the meeting, so the "happening" must be something else. Jun 18, 2023 at 16:38

3 Answers 3


To native Anglophones, there's nothing remotely awkward or substandard about the cited text.

Blinken’s trip came close to happening (it nearly happened) in February. How close? Within one day. Meaning that just one day before the "spy balloon" furore, officials on both sides either had agreed or were about to agree the trip (on some specific date - almost certainly in February, but Blinken wasn't necessarily about to fly to China the very day after that disruptive diplomatic row broke).

Note that the cited usage is effectively literal. That "one day" really does refer to 24 hours, such that if the diplomatic row had happened just a day or two later, Blinken's trip would probably have been booked for a specific date in February (but realistically, it would probably have been cancelled or postponed anyway, when that row blew up).

Sometimes the actual duration of the specified (contextually, relatively short) time between something being imminent and being ruled out, not happening shouldn't be taken too literally...

And I came within minutes of canceling my trip. And then I said to myself, 'Now wait a minute. Now hold on...'

But it's important to note that exactly the same basic construction is often used with a metaphoric short distance to indicate that something very nearly happened. For example,...

I was so depressed I came within inches of taking my life

  • 1
    Yeah I agree. There is nothing wrong here. The sentence is perfectly fine. I often wonder where this desire to change a sentence comes from, perhaps the OP doesn't understand the word "happening" and how it can be used in contexts like this, so they wonder if they can just omit it because they don't understand it.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 18, 2023 at 12:57
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    Actually, the specific example here is "almost literal" - though like I said, it's probably not that the actual date of the planned trip would have been within 24 hours of the diplomatic row. More likely negotiations over the trip date were within 24 hours of completing. But I suppose I have to go the extra mile now to flag up how often this basic construction is used far more figuratively (but very naturally) in English. Jun 18, 2023 at 15:06

I agree this is a very clunky sentence and I had to read it several times. What the author seems to be trying to communicate is that “it” (Blinken’s trip) ALMOST happened in February as was agreed, but then it was delayed on very short notice (“within a day”) because of the tumult. There’s a much tidier way to say all of this, and other problems with the passage besides— but as the sentence stands, I don’t think we can just delete “happening”.

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    – Community Bot
    Jun 18, 2023 at 6:56

The word "day" takes care of the "happening".You can get rid of "happening". The show "What's Happening" was called "What Is" for the first 3 episodes and the addition of "happening" boosted ratings through the roof!

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