[sur-kuhm-stans or, esp. British, -stuhns]
See more synonyms for circumstance on
  1. 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.
  2. Usually circumstances. the existing conditions or state of affairs surrounding and affecting an agent: Circumstances permitting, we sail on Monday.
  3. an unessential or secondary accompaniment of any fact or event; minor detail: The author dwells on circumstances rather than essentials.
  4. circumstances, the condition or state of a person with respect to income and material welfare: a family in reduced circumstances.
  5. an incident or occurrence: His arrival was a fortunate circumstance.
  6. detailed or circuitous narration; specification of particulars: The speaker expatiated with great circumstance upon his theme.
  7. Archaic. ceremonious accompaniment or display: pomp and circumstance.
verb (used with object), cir·cum·stanced, cir·cum·stanc·ing.
  1. to place in particular circumstances or relations: The company was favorably circumstanced by the rise in tariffs.
  2. Obsolete.
    1. to furnish with details.
    2. to control or guide by circumstances.
  1. under no circumstances, regardless of events or conditions; never: Under no circumstances should you see them again.
  2. 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

Synonyms for circumstance

See more synonyms for on Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for circumstance

Contemporary Examples of circumstance

Historical Examples of circumstance

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

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • He must get the dominion over circumstance, or circumstance must get the dominion over him.

  • On them it is forced from without, by sheer pressure of circumstance.

  • This boy had, so she would accept what the gods of time and circumstance provided.

    Her Father's Daughter

    Gene Stratton-Porter

  • I afterwards fell in with Bradbury, who mentioned this circumstance to me.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for circumstance


  1. (usually plural) a condition of time, place, etc, that accompanies or influences an event or condition
  2. an incident or occurrence, esp a chance one
  3. accessory information or detail
  4. formal display or ceremony (archaic except in the phrase pomp and circumstance)
  5. under no circumstances or in no circumstances in no case; never
  6. under the circumstances because of conditions; this being the case
  7. in bad circumstances (of a person) in a bad financial situation
  8. in good circumstances (of a person) in a good financial situation
verb (tr)
  1. to place in a particular condition or situation
  2. obsolete to give in detail

Word Origin for circumstance

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

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

Idioms and Phrases with circumstance


see extenuating circumstances; under the circumstances.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.