"I happened upon this video" or "I happened on this video" I read the latter in a blog post, but I've heard the former mostly. Which is right?

closed as off-topic by ColleenV, CowperKettle, user3169, CRABOLO, Dinusha Nov 24 '14 at 3:10

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  • 4
    Did you try looking it up in the dictionary? The definitions of happen often include something like to meet or discover by chance (usually followed by on or upon) and Oxford's lists "upon" as a synonym for "on", although more formal in tone. – ColleenV Nov 23 '14 at 18:17
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    simply... 'upon' - correct though formal. 'on' - snappy & modern, by comparison. 'on' may be grammatically less sure of itself, but the meaning to the native reader is implicit. – Tetsujin Nov 23 '14 at 19:01
  • @Tetsujin: I don't think just switching from upon to on is enough to make such a dated/formal usage sound "snappy & modern". – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '14 at 20:37
  • Agreed, @FumbleFingers - I dropped a comment on one post, just "I found..." which works just fine for me, no hark-back to Defoe/Dickens... [I did caveat with 'by comparison' but agree it isn't exactly 21st Century] – Tetsujin Nov 23 '14 at 20:58
  • I don't understand the closevotes, and have voted to reopen. After a quick check of online dictionaries, I can't find anything pointing out that upon is (was) far more common than on. Nor is there anything to tell you that "come across" is much more common. These are relevant things for learners to know. – FumbleFingers Nov 24 '14 at 17:07

You risk sounding dated/stilted/starchy/formal if you use the phrasal verb happen upon (or more often, chance upon) in many spoken contexts today.

Here's a chart showing that upon is far more common than on, and here's another one showing that the for the past century and a half, by far the more common phrasing is...

come across (phrasal verbs: defn 2.1) - meet or find by chance


Some people say them both but you could best write it as: "I happened to discover this video".

  • ... or just 'I found...' – Tetsujin Nov 23 '14 at 19:01

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