In Mandarin, usually 为什么 is used to express "why". Sometimes 怎么 is also used to mean the same thing.

What makes them different? Most grammar books I beleive introduce 为什么, but I feel many Chinese use 怎么 on WeChat. Since 怎么 also means "what" or "how", sometimes I got stuck to understand what it means on a context.

Also, is there any other words to mean "why", except them and 为何 (which is the same as 为什么 but literary, right?) and 为啥...?

  • 1
    Also: 为啥 - but you probably knew that.
    – Mou某
    Mar 9, 2018 at 9:05
  • 1
    TV watchers often hear/see 干嘛 bkrs:I v. c What are you doing?; What's up? 你想干嘛? What are you up to? 你干嘛呢? What are you doing? II adv. o 1) why on earth; whatever for 你干嘛不去? Why don't you want to go? 2) totally; completely; all 你干嘛不去? Why don’t you want to go? 老李,你可是贵宾! - 干嘛别把我当人。also see 干么 干吗 抓子
    – user6065
    Mar 9, 2018 at 14:47
  • @user3306356 Ah, I forgot. Added.
    – Blaszard
    Mar 11, 2018 at 4:21

3 Answers 3

  • 什么 = what

  • 怎= how

  • 怎么 = how / how is that (how come)

  • 为什么 = for what = why

  • 为什 is short form of 为什么

  • 为何 is the literary form of 为什么

  • 何故 or 何以 is the literary form of 什么原因 or 什么导致 (for what reason = why)


"什么我不能去?" = "What? I can't go?" or "what (you mean) I can't go"

"怎么我不能去?" = "How is that I can't go?" or " how (come) I can't go?"

"为什么我不能去?" = "For what (reason) I can't go?" or " why I can't go"

Basically 为什么 (why) emphasizes the reason itself ; 怎么(how is that) emphasizes 'in what manner' or 'with what method' the cause exist

  • Thanks and should the position of these interrogatives be before the subject?
    – Blaszard
    Mar 11, 2018 at 4:27
  • "怎么我不能去?" and "我怎么不能去?" are both correct; 为什么我不能去?" and " 我为什么不能去?" are both correct. in "什么我不能去?" the interrogative 什么 has to be before the subject 我; because 什么 is a proclamation roughly means "what you meant?" therefore must be placed at the beginning of the sentence
    – Tang Ho
    Mar 11, 2018 at 5:29

I think they use 怎么 means 'what happened', 'how come', not 'why', why is always '为什么', I don't know other words means '为什么'

  • Although I'd venture to say that how come and why are synonymous in English.
    – Mou某
    Mar 9, 2018 at 9:04

因何 and 何以 was used more often in ancient Chinese, it evolved to 为何 in modern Chinese. 為甚麽(为甚么) was also used once in Hong Kong, 为啥 is also common in dialects currently. However, the official expression 为什么 is mainly used.

  • Also, 點解 (点解)in spoken Cantonese. Somehow 點 came to mean 怎麽 and 怎麽解 -> how to explain -> why.
    – mbjb
    Mar 7, 2020 at 7:49
  • @mestackoverflow The similar words could be found in many dialects in China, generally used only in small area in local languages. There are some dialect words that you cannot explain with modern Chinese grammar. Even in Hong Kong, they would be replaced with official vocabulary in formal occasions.
    – xenophōn
    Mar 10, 2020 at 6:49

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