How to use "Why" in English properly?


Therefore, in this article, I will introduce the correct usage of Why, English phrases. Make sure you understand the differences so that you can master the phrases that are appropriate for your situation!

How to use Why in simple questions

Why is useful for asking why, and is widely used both formal and casual. However, depending on the situation, it may be thought as "?" Or give a feeling of intimidation, so be careful.

"Why" in asking the reason/cause

It is used when simply asking the reason or cause, but as you can see from the example sentence below, Why includes feelings of frustration. Please note that it may be rude, depending on the relationship with the person you are talking to.

A: Are you jealous of his success?
B: Why? (Why do you think so?) = Why do you think so?

"Why do you think so?" Sometimes sounds like asking the other person "Why do you think so?", So when you simply want to ask why, "What makes you think so?" ?) ”. The above example sentence is a nuance that B is irritated by A's remark.

A: I'm learning English. (I'm learning English.)
B: Why (are you learning English)? (Why [learning English]?)

The above example does not include feelings of frustration, it is used simply for the nuance of wanting to know the reason or purpose. If you want to ask the reason or purpose a little more softly, you can say "For what reason/purpose?".

Be careful of the tone of "Why?"!

The meaning of any expression changes slightly depending on the tone, but Why needs special attention. In soft terms, it simply asks "why?", But in a strong tone, "WHY?" Expresses anger and irritation, "why?". Keep in mind that the word "Why?" Or the sentence "Why ~?" Contains intimidating elements.

A: Why don't you have a girlfriend? (Why don't you have a girlfriend?)
B: WHY? (Why don't you ask me?) = WHY do you ask me?

In some cases, it may have a negative nuance that "I do not understand the other party's opinion or intention at all".

A: I love anime! (I love anime!)
B: Why? (Why do you love anime?) = Why do you love anime?

The above example includes the negative feeling of "what's so fascinating about anime?"

By the way, what is called "animation" in Japan is called "cartoon" in English. anime is Japanese English made from animation, but overseas it is recognized as "anime = Japanese cartoon", so you can use anime as it is in English.

A : I'm sorry for the late notice , but I won't be able to attend today's meeting… . Why [did not let me know earlier]?) = Why (didn't you let me know earlier)? A: I accidentally scheduled two
meetings at the same time…. I'm sorry ...)

The above is an example of a conversation between a boss and a subordinate. In this way, "Why" is often used when the boss asks his subordinates and the teacher asks the students why. If there is no hierarchical relationship, Can / Could you tell me like "Can / Could you tell me why you didn't let me know earlier?" Let's use why ~. If you want to express it more politely, put please at the end of the sentence or between you and tell.

Difference between "Why?" And "Why not?"

Both mean "why?" And "why?", But it is necessary to use them properly. Why? Represents "why?" For affirmative sentences, and Why not? Represents "why?" For negative sentences.

Against affirmative sentences

A: I want to surprise her. (I want to surprise her.)
B: Why? (Why do you want to surprise her?) = Why do you want to surprise her?

Against the negative sentence

A: I don't want to surprise her. (I don't want to surprise her.)
B: Why not? (Why don't you want to surprise her?) = Why don't you want to surprise her?

Why not? Is commonly used to mean "why not?", But it can also be used in other ways. For example, when you agree with an invitation or suggestion, of course. The nuance of "Where is the reason for refusing?"

A: Do you want to go for a drink after this? (Do you want to go for a drink after this?)
B: Why not? (Of course.)

Not always "why = why"

When you want to ask "why?" Or "why?", "Why?" May not be suitable.

For example, let's say Mr. A fell on his bicycle and broke his arm. Mr. A's arm is fixed with a cast. At that time, Mr. B called me and asked me to play tennis on the weekend. However, Mr. A's arm is fixed with a cast, so he cannot play tennis. So tell Mr. B that he broke his arm.

In such a situation, many Japanese people ask "Why?" To mean "why (broken bone)?".

This is a mistake. The correct answer is "How?". Let's see the difference between the meanings of Why? And How ?.

Why? = Why did you try to break your arm?

How? = How did you break your arm? (How did you break your arm?)

When asking "why" for unpredictable things like injuries, accidents, and troubles, I usually use How instead of Why. Some people may believe "Why = Why" and do not doubt it, but that is not always the case. If you remember that Why cannot be used for all "why", you will definitely get a higher level of English.

"Why" other than Why: How come?

There are other English phrases that mean "why" besides Why. First, let's start with "How come?", Which is often used by natives like Why.

Positive "why"

I mentioned that Why may have a negative meaning, but "How come?" Has no negative meaning and represents a positive "why". It's a casual expression, so it's best not to use it for business situations or superiors.

Why asks the reason, while How come? Is used when you want to know the situation or when you do not understand the intention of the other party, and do not ask for the reason or cause. Sometimes it can be surprising or interesting.

A: I can't sleep very well recently…. (I can't sleep very well recently….)
B: How come? (Why?)

⇒ Asking the situation

A: I'm going to Sydney next week. (I'm going to Sydney next week.)
B: How come? (Why?)

⇒ Shows surprise and interest

Word order of "How come ~?"

Instead of using it as "How come?", You can also use it in the text "How come ~?". If you use Why, the word order is the same as a normal interrogative sentence, but if you use How come, it will be "How come + subject + verb ~?", So be careful.

How come you are crying?

How come he hates Karen? (Why does he hate Karen?)

How come you didn't say anything? (Why didn't you say anything?)

In addition, the example sentence of Why shown here can also be expressed by How come as follows. The Japanese translation is the same, but the upper sentence is annoyingly asking why, and the lower sentence is just asking the situation.

Why didn't you let me know earlier? (Why didn't you let me know earlier?)

How come you didn't let me know earlier?

"Why" other than Why: What for?

Let's take a look at "What for?", Which is frequently used by natives as well as "Why?" And "How come?".

"Why" asking the purpose

Why is the reason, How come? Asks the situation, surprises and interests, while What for? Is used to ask the purpose, "What?". This is a convenient expression when you do not understand the intention of the other party's remark and ask "What are you doing it for?"

A: I have to go to the airport tomorrow. (I have to go to the airport tomorrow.)
B: What for?

⇒ Asking for the purpose

Also, What for? Asks for the purpose, so it is unnatural to use it for something that has a clear purpose.

A: I've decided to buy a house. (I've decided to buy a house.)
B: How come? (Why?) ⇒ I'm asking about the situation ○
C: What for ? ⇒Because the purpose of buying a house is to live ☓

Word order of "What ~ for?"

Instead of using it as "What for?", You can also use it in the text "What ~ for?". The basic form is "What + do / did etc. + Subject + Verb + Object / Complement + for?". You can also use "be verb + present participle" after What to make it the present progressive tense, or use "have + past participle" to make it the present perfect tense.

What did you do that for?

What have you come here for?

What are you cooking for?

Other English phrases that mean "why"

"Why?", "How come?" And "What for?" Are three commonly used English phrases, but there are others, so I'll show them for reference.

What do you mean?

What do you mean? Is the nuance of "what do you mean?" And "what do you mean?" Use this when you want an explanation or details of what the other person said.

A: The fuel gauge is broken.
B: Broken? What do you mean ?

A: I want to spend Christmas alone. (I want to spend Christmas alone.)
B: Alone? What do you mean?

Why is that?

Why is that? literally means "why is that?", But it is used in almost the same meaning as Why ?, and is sometimes abbreviated as Why's that ?. It seems that some natives use Why is that? Or Why's that? To soften the unfriendly sound of Why ?.

A: Have you got any holiday plans? (Did you make a vacation plan?)
B: No, no holiday this year…. (No, I don't have a vacation this year….)
A: Why is that? (Why? )

A: Japanese people are very polite. (Japanese people are very polite.)
B: Why's that? (Why?)
A: I don't know why, maybe because it is from Shinto religious beliefs . I don't know, but it may be due to Shinto beliefs.)

How can you verb ~?

The How can you verb ~? Is used to mean "why ~?". It is an expression with suspicion that you cannot believe what the other person is doing.

How can you say that?

How can you laugh?

How can you be so stupid?

How can you expect me to believe your promises?


In Japanese English education, we learn "Why = Why", so we use Why without worrying about what we are asking, but there are various expressions depending on what we ask. It is important to understand the differences between phrases other than Why, including How, and use them properly depending on the situation. Expressing your feelings accurately in English is not an easy task, but let's try to master the phrases that are appropriate for the situation!