I have a question here, when I read an excerpt from the novel "The Crossing" written by Winston Churchill. I can not understand the following sentence

They occurred only when a passing traveler who hit his fancy chanced that way, or, what was almost as rare, a neighbor.

I have looked up the meaning of the word "chance (v.)", and I found 2 meanings of this word which are "risk" and "not planned" respectively. In this sentence I think the later meaning will be more appropriate. But they often use "to chance to do something = to do sth by chance". I've never seen anything like "to chance that way" before. I could not translate it. What does it mean?

  • 2
    It means just exactly what the dictionary says it means. ELU is not a dictionary look-up service: you are expected to do that yourself.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 15:41
  • I've searched it in many dictionaries already, but I just could not bring its meaning to the sentence in the reasonable way.
    – user78585
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 15:49
  • Then you should please include that information in your question, because otherwise we have no way to know what you found or where you failed to find it.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 15:50
  • I'm sorry for my mistake, I've fixed it. Thank for your advice
    – user78585
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 16:10
  • Yes, to risk is one meaning of to chance, but not the operative one here. The only way chance can mean unplanned is when used not as a verb but an adjective, as in a chance encounter.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


Any dictionary should provide a perfectly reasonable definition for using chance as a verb. The OED provides several:

1. intr. To come about by chance; to happen, occur, fall out, come to pass.

a. with the event as subject, expressed either by a sb. preceding the verb, or by a clause following it, the verb being then preceded by it, as ‘It chanced that I saw’. arch.

b. followed by an indirect obj. (dative); the event being expressed as in sense a, or by infinitive following it. Obs.

c. with the indirect object of sense b changed into grammatical subject; followed by inf. expressing the event. (e.g. ‘Him chanced to come’, ‘He chanced to come’: cf. happen.) Somewhat arch.

2. To happen to come, come by chance (on or upon; also formerly with other prepositions). Somewhat arch. (Cf. happen.)

3. To speed, have luck (of some kind). Obs.

4. a. trans. To risk, venture, take one’s chance of. colloq.

b. Slang phr. and chance the ducks: come what may; anyhow, anyway.

c. colloq. phr. to chance one’s arm: to perform an action in the face of probable failure; to take one’s chance of doing something successfully. Similarly to chance one’s mit.

5. how chance was formerly used in questions for ‘how chances it that’, ‘how is (was) it that’.
Here chance takes no inflexion, and almost assumes the character of an adverb. Cf. chance sb. C.

As sense 2 plainly explains, to chance that way means to happen to come that way, to come that way by chance.

The note “Somewhat archaic” tells you that the expression is today more apt to be encountered either in older works, or, if modern, in literary, oratorical, or poetic registers. Churchill is a modern writer albeit one well versed in English letters, and so to him it was not an inappropriate expression by any means. Indeed, he might well have used it not just in writing but in speech; after all, it is not all that archaic — merely “somewhat” so, a weak and tentative statement at most.


chanced that way = happened to pass that way by chance

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.