Coincidence vs. Happenstance: What's the Difference?

By Janet White & Aimie Carlson || Updated on May 22, 2024
Coincidence refers to the occurrence of events at the same time by chance, while happenstance refers to a situation or event that happens by chance.

Key Differences

Coincidence involves two or more events occurring simultaneously or sequentially in a surprising manner without an apparent causal connection. It emphasizes the unexpectedness and the alignment of these events. Happenstance, on the other hand, refers to a single event or situation occurring by chance. It implies randomness and lacks the implication of simultaneous events.
Coincidence often carries a sense of surprise and sometimes implies a deeper meaning or significance to the simultaneous events, even if logically there's none. Happenstance, however, is more neutral, simply describing the occurrence without suggesting any special significance.
When describing patterns, coincidence can sometimes imply a pattern where none is intended, leading to various interpretations or beliefs about the events' meanings. In contrast, happenstance denotes singular, isolated occurrences without suggesting any larger pattern.
The use of coincidence is more common in discussions involving unexpected alignments of multiple factors or events, whereas happenstance is often used in contexts where an individual occurrence happens by luck or chance.

Comparison Chart

Definition

Simultaneous or sequential occurrence of events by chance
An event or situation occurring by chance

Number of Events

Typically involves multiple events
Usually refers to a single event

Implication

Often suggests surprise or significance
Emphasizes randomness and neutrality

Usage Context

Unexpected alignments or patterns
Random, isolated occurrences

Perceived Meaning

May imply a deeper connection
Does not imply any deeper connection

Coincidence and Happenstance Definitions

Coincidence

A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.
The coincidence of their birthdays was astonishing.

Happenstance

A chance occurrence or event.
By happenstance, he found an old photograph in the attic.

Coincidence

The occurrence of events at the same time by chance.
It was a coincidence that we both chose the same vacation spot.

Happenstance

The occurrence of events by chance rather than by design.
His success was more due to happenstance than planning.

Coincidence

An accidental and noteworthy alignment of events.
By coincidence, they both wore the same outfit to the party.

Happenstance

A situation occurring without any deliberate intention.
It was happenstance that they ended up on the same flight.

Coincidence

The condition of occupying the same place in space; as, the coincidence of circles, surfaces, etc.

Happenstance

An event or situation that happens by chance.
Their meeting was pure happenstance.

Coincidence

The state or fact of occupying the same relative position or area in space.

Happenstance

Something that occurs randomly and unexpectedly.
The encounter was a sheer happenstance.

Coincidence

A sequence of events that although accidental seems to have been planned or arranged.

Happenstance

A chance circumstance
"I drove loops around the nearby parish school ... hoping to bump into her casually and claim it was mere happenstance" (Hart Seely).

Coincidence

Of objects, the property of being coincident; occurring at the same time or place.

Happenstance

(uncountable) The chance or random quality of an event or circumstance.
By happenstance

Coincidence

Of events, the appearance of a meaningful connection when there is none.
That the two writers were born and died on the same day is just a coincidence, although there are many conspiracy theories about it.

Happenstance

(countable) A chance or random event or circumstance.
Our meeting today was a happenstance, but I'm glad we crossed paths.
The happenstances of life

Coincidence

(analysis) A coincidence point.

Happenstance

An event that might have been arranged although it was really accidental

Coincidence

(geometry) A fixed point of a correspondence; a point of a variety corresponding to itself under a correspondence.

Coincidence

The condition or fact of happening at the same time; as, the coincidence of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Coincidence

Exact correspondence in nature, character, result, circumstances, etc.; concurrence; agreement.
The very concurrence and coincidence of so many evidences . . . carries a great weight.
Those who discourse . . . of the nature of truth . . . affirm a perfect coincidence between truth and goodness.

Coincidence

An event that might have been arranged although it was really accidental

Coincidence

The quality of occupying the same position or area in space;
He waited for the coincidence of the target and the cross hairs

Coincidence

The temporal property of two things happening at the same time;
The interval determining the coincidence gate is adjustable

Coincidence

The fact of two things happening together in a way that seems surprising.
It was a coincidence that the two letters arrived on the same day.

FAQs

Is coincidence always surprising?

Often, yes, coincidences are surprising due to the unexpected alignment of events.

What is a coincidence?

A coincidence is when two or more events occur at the same time by chance.

Can a coincidence involve just one event?

No, a coincidence typically involves multiple events occurring together.

What is the main difference between coincidence and happenstance?

Coincidence involves multiple events occurring together by chance, while happenstance refers to a single event occurring by chance.

Are coincidences considered meaningful?

Sometimes, people perceive coincidences as meaningful, though they may not be causally connected.

Does happenstance imply any deeper meaning?

No, happenstance simply denotes an event occurring by chance without deeper significance.

Can happenstance refer to a planned event?

No, happenstance refers to events occurring by chance, not by planning.

Can coincidences be explained?

Sometimes, coincidences can be explained, but they often appear to be random.

Is happenstance a common term?

Happenstance is less commonly used than coincidence but still understood.

What is happenstance?

Happenstance is an event or situation that happens by chance.

Can a coincidence be a single occurrence?

No, coincidences involve the simultaneous or sequential occurrence of multiple events.

Can happenstance occur in everyday life?

Yes, happenstance can occur in everyday situations.

Is happenstance related to serendipity?

Yes, both terms describe chance occurrences, but serendipity often implies beneficial outcomes.

Is happenstance always random?

Yes, happenstance describes events that occur randomly without intention.

Can a coincidence be a statistical anomaly?

Yes, coincidences can be statistical anomalies.

Can a coincidence be a regular occurrence?

No, coincidences are typically irregular and surprising.

Does happenstance imply luck?

Yes, happenstance often implies an element of luck or chance.

Do coincidences require interpretation?

People often interpret coincidences to find meaning, though they are random.

Do coincidences have patterns?

Coincidences may seem to have patterns, but they are typically random.

Is there a positive or negative connotation to happenstance?

Happenstance is neutral, describing chance events without positive or negative connotations.