Definition of why in English:


interrogative adverb

  • 1For what reason or purpose.

    ‘why did he do it?’
    • ‘If they were really such good friends, why does the caller keep getting the phone number wrong?’
    • ‘At least your friends never ask you why you never read a single issue of this magazine.’
    • ‘Well, why did you agree to drive your mates around whilst they did all the tag work?’
    • ‘Okay, you may ask, if the person was such a good friend then why did I lose contact with them in the first place.’
    • ‘Sometimes, I wonder who my friends are, and why it is they all seem to be crazy in the head.’
    • ‘His example is shocking: why, we ask, could he not have employed a small boy with a rattle to scare them off?’
    • ‘It seemed to beg the question: why, then, had it taken England so long to return?’
    • ‘Since the start of the war, a number of friends have asked why I am still protesting against it.’
    • ‘Demetriou said he wondered day and night why his friend ended his life so brutally.’
    • ‘Why can't we do this with politicians?’
    • ‘I have been asking students and friends whether and why they will be voting.’
    • ‘So some of my friends have been wondering why I have been sort of down in the dumps.’
    • ‘For example - why, time after time, does Britain bid to host the Olympics in Manchester?’
    • ‘Why, exactly did I think moving to a seaside resort would be a good thing?’
    • ‘And, perhaps more pertinently, why do we insist on knowing about it in the first place?’
    1. 1.1with negative Used to make or agree to a suggestion.
      ‘why don't I give you a lift?’
      • ‘If you are a gardener and want to extend your group of friends, why not come to the next meeting?’
      • ‘Why don't they just cut out the decoy?’
      • ‘So if you are over 55 and would like to be a little bit more fit or just meet new friends why not come along.’

relative adverb

  • 1(with reference to a reason) on account of which; for which.

    ‘the reason why flu jabs need repeating every year is that the virus changes’
    • ‘This is the reason why none of these leaders could make any positive contribution in the real sense.’
    • ‘That is the reason why most of the nests are in the feeding area of the bird.’
    • ‘Everybody I spoke with knew there would be no parade and the reason why it wasn't going ahead.’
    • ‘I don't know the reason why he has said all this but it puts him in a bad light.’
    • ‘That is part of the reason why we are going in for a completely fresh start.’
    • ‘The relative poverty of the region is the reason why the financial losses seem disproportionately small.’
    • ‘Firstly, the reason why we publish pictures from crashes is to show people the consequence of accidents.’
    • ‘They are part of the reason why he turned down jobs outside of Dundee.’
    • ‘On the one hand, it is too easy to blame victims rather than grapple with the reason why they are victims.’
    • ‘It is not enough to know the result of something, because it is necessary to figure out the reason why.’
    • ‘The reason why I have certain comfort zones is due to a lesson I learnt when I was younger.’
    • ‘It's obvious that the two of you are the reason why the kids have such a great time at the ranch.’
    • ‘And that is the reason why in the things nearest our hearts we praise so little and criticise so lavishly.’
    • ‘The reason why this wasn't the case was clear when the guide actually asked how many Beatles fans there were on board.’
    • ‘It is the reason why so many Namibians sacrificed their lives in the struggle for liberation.’
    • ‘The reason why this guy makes me feel better is because he has less!’
    • ‘The reason why they are having to claim this is because the Government prevents asylum seekers from working.’
    • ‘The reason why my cranium was not injured was because I was wearing an ancient, yellow climbing helmet.’
    • ‘I advised my team leaders about this problem, and the reason why it had occurred.’
    • ‘That was seen as the reason why previous moves by the bank had been attacked by media and politicians.’
    1. 1.1 The reason for which.
      ‘each has faced similar hardships, and perhaps that is why they are friends’
      • ‘Perhaps that is why he has written some of the best story beginnings in the history of literature.’
      • ‘Which perhaps explains why Cusack is so criminally unforthcoming off-screen.’
      • ‘He wants to restore to the decade its rightful complexity - which perhaps explains why the book is so long.’
      • ‘It perhaps explains why today I don't like to go to places that require me to use a map.’
      • ‘Perhaps that's why so much of her work features aeroplanes and airport lounges.’
      • ‘I think about why friends went, and it was pretty much for the same reasons as me.’
      • ‘Perhaps this is why he has threatened legal action against some who are reporting this story.’
      • ‘Perhaps that is why after getting freed, this time, she has migrated from the area.’
      • ‘A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home.’
      • ‘Perhaps that is why she has littered the novel with thematic billboards.’
      • ‘Perhaps it's why the West Coast has more helicopters than anywhere else in the country.’
      • ‘This is perhaps why it's also keen to stop the subject being marginalised from the school's syllabus.’
      • ‘Perhaps this explains why Chan was rejected by Richmond voters at the last election.’
      • ‘Perhaps this is why the twin towers did not inspire the same sort of affection reserved for other New York landmarks.’
      • ‘Perhaps that's why they didn't seem to have any true sympathy for how I felt.’
      • ‘Perhaps that's why we spend so much time whining about our stress levels.’
      • ‘Perhaps that is why I continue to watch: to drain my imagination, which is all too unrequited.’
      • ‘Perhaps that's why they end up doing rather director-led conceptual stagings.’
      • ‘Perhaps that is why the Government has merely reserved the Report for public debate.’
      • ‘Perhaps you can see why all those who wrote about the Beijing speech are suddenly stranded.’


  • 1Expressing surprise or indignation.

    ‘why, that's absurd!’
    • ‘'Why, that's absurd,' my father said.’
    • ‘People said, "That's outrageous, why, that's silly. Common sense says that can't possibly be the truth.’
  • 2Used to add emphasis to a response.

    ‘‘You think so?’ ‘Why, yes.’’
    • ‘Why yes, how did you know?’


  • A reason or explanation.

    ‘the whys and wherefores of these procedures need to be explained to students’
    • ‘But while it seems impossible to condense the whys and wherefores of politicians and recent developments in anything less than a full scale portrait it might perhaps be possible in a comic strip.’
    • ‘The whys and wherefores of the ‘Battle of the Buffet’ may never be fully revealed but it is known that, because of staining, Ferguson had to change his clothing before conducting television interviews.’
    • ‘Surely it would be more useful to seek the whys and wherefores, to conceive of root causes why July is a month for many to act out?’
    • ‘Apprehensive though many Ministers are, they do not regard it as their place to wrangle over the whys and wherefores, certainly not in public.’
    • ‘The addition gives me some pause, however, and it would be as well, I think, to give an account of this list, its whys and wherefores, its origins and impulses, else it lapse into a pompous and merely bibliographic obscurity.’
    • ‘The whys and wherefores of the moral and social behaviors make this subject fascinating to me.’
    • ‘But - irrespective of the whys and wherefores behind Jayne's job rejections - it is clear that there is still a perceived problem, which urgently needs addressing.’
    • ‘At community colleges across the nation, faculty members are still trying to determine the hows and whys of valuing scholarship at their institutions.’
    • ‘After all, if you enjoy doing it, and feel the connections you make with others via the blog are worthwhile, perhaps you should just carry on and not overanalyse the whys and wherefores?’
    • ‘From time to time I have wondered about the origins and the whys and wherefores of this unusual memory, and only last month was the key to the mystery found.’
    • ‘I'M not going to delve into the whys and wherefores of the structure agreed to, because there are concerns that need to be addressed.’
    • ‘With regard to the foursome sitting on the table opposite mine, I simply don't give a stuff about the whys and wherefores of your car's breaking down on the A47, which is why you're now going home on the train.’
    • ‘Though Bremer, apparently, is reluctantly beginning to agree, Calamai's explanation of the whys and wherefores is so direct, spare, and compelling, it's worth repeating.’
    • ‘The whys and wherefores of how the leader of the State became involved in a planning controversy a hundred miles from his own constituency has become a convoluted story.’
    • ‘So while some of the kingpins are posing and posturing with flash and flurry, behind the scenes the big debate on the whys and wherefores of possible arrests is going on.’
    • ‘We all enjoy the peace and quiet and a chance to daydream while weeding, but there comes a time when it's nice to have company and talk about the whys and wherefores.’
    • ‘Even when Asha Parekh was in Delhi last week to promote her latest serial, scribes wanted to know about the whys and wherefores of decisions she took at that time.’
    • ‘I love to read about the whys and what-fors behind what I am doing - explanation with instruction.’
    • ‘I'm not going to go into the whys and wherefores; suffice it to say that at the beginning of February I had a pretty major nervous breakdown, from which I am still recovering.’
    • ‘One simple mechanism used to avoid an incomplete process of root cause determination is the so-called rule of five whys.’


  • why so?

    • For what reason or purpose?

      ‘‘I need to borrow your car.’ ‘Why so?’’
      • ‘We get bits and pieces of meaning, some glimpses of hope and we ponder again and again, why so?’


Old English hwī, hwȳ ‘by what cause’, instrumental case of hwæt ‘what’, of Germanic origin.