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Most of time I heard native English speakers say either "What is happening?" or "what happened?".

When do we use "happen" in present tense?

So, we don't use "what happens?", do we?

  • Oh yes, we do. And then, what happens? – Kris Aug 9 '15 at 10:16
  • @Kris: I think you have just fallen into OPs trap. That may be hypothetical or it may be future, but it is not a simple present. – Tim Lymington Aug 9 '15 at 10:58
  • @TimLymington It is a simple present-tense form; it just happens (!) to carry a semantic nuance beyond simple presentness. Or rather, it carries the nuance of general presentness (like most simple presents in English), unlike the progressive forms which carry the nuance of current, simultaneous, progressive presentness. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 9 '15 at 11:52
  • "You should see what happens when you put Mentos in Diet Coke." "Why, what happens?" – Hot Licks Aug 9 '15 at 12:41
  • What happens if I push this big red button here? – Wayfaring Stranger Aug 9 '15 at 14:22
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"what's happening?" Is in the present continuous tense, which is used to talk about things happening at the moment. This is a fairly common question to inquiring about things happening now.

You can use 'happen' in present simple when you talk about things in general that don't apply to a specific time:

what kind of things happen at oktoberfest? (In general, every year) What's happening at oktoberfest? (Whats happening this year?)

It's also popular in some sayings: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas (again, this is disconnected from a particular 'now' time)

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