Usually when first learning Chinese we learn that 为什么 means "why". However, I recently encountered 因为什么, and I'm wondering if it's different.

Why were you put in?
(玛帝尔达 (Matilda), page 114; English version pdf page 101)

It directly combines 因为 = "because" with 什么 = "what", so it looks like it means "for what reason" or "why", i.e., it's the same as 为什么. I'm not sure if there's any distinction though.

Question: What's the difference between 因为什么 and 为什么?

  • The literal meaning is already clear: 1. 为什么: why? for what? 2. 因为什么: because of what? by what?
    – xenophōn
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 5:50
  • They are pretty much the same. I don't see any difference. 你因为什么给关进去? VS 你为什么给关进去?
    – dan
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 5:50
  • Is this the same distinction that used to exist in English before the two meanings became merged into the one word in common speech? "Why" meant "what is the cause", and "Wherefore" meant "what is the purpose". As when "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" meant "Why the [bleep] are you that Romeo? (is someone trying to punish me?)". Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 18:15

3 Answers 3


I would say you could opt to translate them these two different ways:

  • 为什么 = why?

  • 因为什么 = how come?

Which matches to English fairly well.

因为什么, though, is usually part of a larger sentence structure like [...]是因为什么原因[...].


Q: "为了什么殺人?"/ "为什么殺人" (why you kill?)

A: "为了錢"/ "为錢" (for money)

为了什么/ 为什么 = for what/ why

we want to know the motive for you to do it

you do it because you want the money


Q:"因为什么而殺人?"/ "因什么而殺人?" (you kill because of what?)

A:"因为妒忌而殺人" / "因妒忌而殺人" (I kill because of jealousy)

因为什么 / 因什么 = because of what

we want to know what is the cause of you doing it

you don't want to be jealous, but jealousy is the cause

为妒忌而殺人 sounds like you kill because you want to be jealous (of cause we understand you meant jealousy caused you to kill)

  • 为了錢而殺人 clearly stated you do it for money

  • 因为錢而殺人 just stated money is the cause, may be that guy you killed stole all your money and you killed him for revenge. In this case money is the cause, not your motive


为什么殺人 put the verb 殺人 directly after 为什么

因为什么而殺人 is in a [(因 ~ 而) + (v)] = [(v) (because of) ~] structure

If someone ask you 为什么殺人(why you kill) , you can reply either "为錢而殺人" (state your motive) or "因錢而殺人" (state the cause)


Personally, I think
为什么 assumes you may or may not be innocent, while 因为什么 assumes you are innocent.

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