accidentally meet / encounter / run into someone

epistolario

Senior Member
Tagalog
I remember watching a video, and some American woman said, "What if I run into someone I know at a shopping mall?" I was impressed at the natural sound of her speech.

Since non-native speakers are normally unfamiliar with phrasal verbs, I'd expect them to say something like these in a similar setting:

a) What if I accidentally meet someone I know at a shopping mall?​
b) What if I accidentally encounter someone I know at a shopping mall?​

What do you think about these two options when used in casual speech? Should these be reserved in (slightly) formal situations?
 
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  • elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    a) doesn’t sound idiomatic to me.
    b) is formal, I agree.
    I also agree that “bump into” works well as a synonym of “run into” here.
    meet works but it doesn't have the same sense of coincidence.
    “What if I meet someone I know at a shopping mall?”, to me, means that the meeting was planned. Is this what you meant?
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    For me, “meet” in this context can only be planned.

    If I ran into someone at the mall, I would never say “I met him at the mall.”
     

    epistolario

    Senior Member
    Tagalog
    Thanks, everyone.
    a) doesn’t sound idiomatic to me.
    I thought adding accidentally would work, but it turns out the sentence is unidiomatic.

    What if I accidentally meet someone I know at a shopping mall? :cross:

    The expression by chance has occurred to me, and I think it also works.

    What if I meet someone I know by chance at a shopping mall?​
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    As I said, “I met him at the mall” for me means it was planned, so for me, “I met him accidentally / by chance” is a contradiction in terms in this context.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Thanks, everyone.

    I thought adding accidentally would work, but it turns out the sentence is unidiomatic.

    What if I accidentally meet someone I know at a shopping mall? :cross:

    The expression by chance has occurred to me, and I think it also works.

    What if I meet someone I know by chance at a shopping mall?​
    "By chance" would be my choice.

    I had not planned on seeing Epistolario until the weekend, but we met by chance at the shopping mall on Monday.
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I think this may be a bit of an AE/BE difference. My personal use and my impression of other AE speakers is that meet almost always refers to a planned event. In casual, accidental encounters we say ran into or bumped into. Maybe other AE speakers will think differently.

    The one definite time meet could be used in an accidental situation in my experience is someone known to the speaker but never personally encountered before. For instance:

    Guess who we met [i.e. for the first time] at the mall? Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) was there signing autographs and we said hello to her.

    You meet someone you know of but haven't personally encountered before.

    It could even be more personal.

    Guess who I met at the mall? Your ex-wife. I started talking to a woman in a clothing store and after awhile we realized that her ex-husband is you.
     
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    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    The one definite time meet could be used in an accidental situation in my experience is someone known to the speaker but never personally encountered before.
    That's a different meaning of "meet." In your examples, it means "be introduced to / introduce oneself to." Of course that can be either planned or unplanned.

    But "meet" (for me, and it sounds like for you as well) can't mean "run into / bump into (someone you already know)," as described in the OP.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    As kentix says, it must be a BE/AE difference.
    "You'll never guess who I met in town today." is perfectly normal in British English. Obviously not planned.
    That sounds perfectly normal to my American English ears.
     
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