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I have a question about the usage of the verb "occur". According to definition 1 of this dictionary, "occur" means for a event to "happen".

But then I saw these usages of "occur" in a couple of NY Times articles:

Article 1:
The aircraft damage occurred even though about half the helicopters were moved inside hangars and the rest tied down as the storm approached, the Army said.

Article 2:
Criticism also seems to be the most stressful part of the job for Hubie Brown, the Knicks' coach who was hospitalized for three days last fall after an angina attack. Brown's illness occurred as he was anticipating an unflattering article about himself in Sports Illustrated magazine, and while he does not directly connect the two events he puts ''media pressure'' at the top of his list when itemizing sources of stress.

For the first example, "damage" is a state of being damaged, not an event. So how does "damage" occur?

For the second example, an "illness" is a state of being unwell, not an event. So the phrase "Brown's illness occurred" sounds weird.

What do native speakers think? Are the usages of "occur" in the two examples poor usage?

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    The car-fire occurred when someone dropped a cigarette onto a puddle of gas while filling up. Isn't the car-fire both a "car in the state of being ablaze" and an incident? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 14 '16 at 17:41
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    They sound perfectly normal to me. The damage to the aircraft happened even though etc. Brown's illness happened as he was anticipating etc. Damage and illness are both definitely events that can happen to someone or something. – stangdon Jul 14 '16 at 17:52
  • Yeah English can be a bit crazy. As a note (@ArbitraryRenaissance's answer is 100% correct) damage in your first example may be a noun (Your house has damage.) or a verb (I damage your house.) In this sense it is a noun. The event happened at 4 pm. The damage happened at 4 pm. The damage occurred at 4pm. It gets a bit tricky and I'm not sure I have it right either. – coteyr Jul 14 '16 at 20:58
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    Many nouns are hybrid event/result. The cops are investigating a robbery. The robbery occurred at 4PM on Thursday. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 14 '16 at 21:17
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Actually, nouns that are treated as characteristics or properties can oftentimes take on the secondary role of events. Namely, they can denote the event of someone or something attaining said characteristic or property. I think by looking directly at the examples, we can better understand how the word "occur" is used in context.

The aircraft damage occurred even though about half the helicopters were moved inside hangars and the rest tied down as the storm approached, the Army said.

The way I see this, it's not the word "occurred" that's lending itself a different meaning, but rather, it's the word "damage" that's taking on an extra role. In this instance, "damage" is being treated as an event that happened, rather than a condition or state that something had. Damage essentially means, "an event where something gets damaged" here.

Brown's illness occurred as he was anticipating an unflattering article about himself in Sports Illustrated magazine, and while he does not directly connect the two events he puts ''media pressure'' at the top of his list when itemizing sources of stress.

Once again, the word "illness" is being used to represent the event of becoming ill, rather than the state of being ill.

  • It seems like the combination of the noun and the word occurred together is making it clear that the state is already in effect, that it occurred, in the past-tense. The noun alone isn't the event, it is the combination of both words that makes it represent a past event. – Zack Jul 14 '16 at 20:40
  • @Zack Context is key. You don't necessarily need the word "occurred" to have the noun assume a different meaning. For example, in the sentence, "Most of the damage took place between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.," the word "damage" is taking the exact same form as in the example given in the question. However, I like the way you interpret it: that you must modify the noun with context before it gains this new meaning. – ArbitraryRenaissance Jul 15 '16 at 4:09
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In either of these, "happened" can be substituted in for "occurred" without issue.

When you use a noun that refers to a state of being with a verb that seems to refer to a specific point in time like either of these, the verb refers to the action of transitioning into that state of being.

When the verb being used with the noun refers to a time period (e.g. "while he was anticipating an unflattering article about himself") it implies the state of being existed throughout that time period.

The second article could be interpreted to mean that Brown got sick (he entered into the "illness" state of being) when he was anticipating an unflattering article, or that he was sick (remained in that state of being) for (at least most of) the duration of the time when he was anticipating an unflattering article. Probably, both are true and intended.

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ArbitraryRenaissance's answer is 100% correct. I originally had this as a comment, but I thought formatting it as an answer may help.

Looking at your first example:

The aircraft damage occurred even though about half the helicopters were moved inside hangars and the rest tied down as the storm approached, the Army said.

Damage (the word in question) may be either a noun or a verb.

Verb: I damage your house.
Noun: Your house has damage.

In the sense of this article, it's a noun. For example:

The event happened at 4 pm.
The damage happened at 4 pm.
The damage occurred at 4pm.
The damage occurred even though I was sitting down.

In the second example. Illness is a noun. There for it works in the noun as an event sense. Illness can not be a verb. You can not illness someone. But, it's noun as even that works, and the fact that damage is a verb is only secondary (and a possible source of your confusion).

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    I don't know if this explanation can adequately describe the second case, where the word is "illness." I am unaware of a way to use that word as a verb – Cort Ammon Jul 14 '16 at 22:10
  • Replace damage with illness. It still works in the noun as an event sense. It's an odd rule, and I can't illness your house (verb sense), I will try to clarify. – coteyr Jul 14 '16 at 22:14

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