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[sur-kuh m-stans or, esp. British, -stuh ns] /ˈsɜr kəmˌstæns or, esp. British, -stəns/
a condition, detail, part, or attribute, with respect to time, place, manner,agent, etc., that accompanies, determines, or modifies a fact or event; a modifying or influencing factor:
Do not judge his behavior without considering every circumstance.
Usually, circumstances. the existing conditions or state of affairs surrounding and affecting an agent:
Circumstances permitting, we sail on Monday.
an unessential or secondary accompaniment of any fact or event; minor detail:
The author dwells on circumstances rather than essentials.
circumstances, the condition or state of a person with respect to income and material welfare:
a family in reduced circumstances.
an incident or occurrence:
His arrival was a fortunate circumstance.
detailed or circuitous narration; specification of particulars:
The speaker expatiated with great circumstance upon his theme.
Archaic. ceremonious accompaniment or display:
pomp and circumstance.
verb (used with object), circumstanced, circumstancing.
to place in particular circumstances or relations:
The company was favorably circumstanced by the rise in tariffs.
  1. to furnish with details.
  2. to control or guide by circumstances.
under no circumstances, regardless of events or conditions; never:
Under no circumstances should you see them again.
under the circumstances, because of the conditions; as the case stands:
Under the circumstances, there is little hope for an early settlement.
Also, in the circumstances.
Origin of circumstance
1175-1225; Middle English < Latin circumstantia (circumstant-, stem of circumstāns, present participle of circumstāre to stand round), equivalent to circum- circum- + stā- stand + -nt present participle suffix + -ia noun suffix; see -ance
7. ritual, formality, splendor. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for circumstance
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • And naturally, ordinary trials of boarding-house life were aggravated by circumstance.

  • The good woman, although low in circumstance, is great in mind!

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9) Samuel Richardson
  • Some slaves had been in the room on the occasion, and the circumstance had become notorious in the gossip of the Palace.

    Darkness and Dawn Frederic W. Farrar
  • He must get the dominion over circumstance, or circumstance must get the dominion over him.

  • This circumstance alone seems conclusive as to the state of popular feeling.

    The Myths and Fables of To-Day Samuel Adams Drake
British Dictionary definitions for circumstance


(usually pl) a condition of time, place, etc, that accompanies or influences an event or condition
an incident or occurrence, esp a chance one
accessory information or detail
formal display or ceremony (archaic except in the phrase pomp and circumstance)
under no circumstances, in no circumstances, in no case; never
under the circumstances, because of conditions; this being the case
in bad circumstances, (of a person) in a bad financial situation
in good circumstances, (of a person) in a good financial situation
verb (transitive)
to place in a particular condition or situation
(obsolete) to give in detail
Word Origin
C13: from Old French circonstance, from Latin circumstantia, from circumstāre to stand around, from circum- + stāre to stand
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for circumstance

early 13c., "conditions surrounding and accompanying an event," from Old French circonstance "circumstance, situation," also literally, "outskirts" (13c., Modern French circonstance), from Latin circumstantia "surrounding condition," neuter plural of circumstans (genitive circumstantis), present participle of circumstare "stand around, surround, encompass, occupy, take possession of" from circum "around" (see circum-) + stare "to stand" from PIE root *sta- "to stand" (see stet). The Latin word is a loan-translation of Greek peristasis.

Meaning "a person's surroundings, environment" is from mid-14c. Meaning "a detail" is from c.1300; sense of "that which is non-essential" is from 1590s. Obsolete sense of "formality about an important event" (late 14c.) lingers in Shakespeare's phrase pomp and circumstance ("Othello" III, iii).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with circumstance
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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