How To Say “Why” In Japanese

When you want to ask questions, there are certain words that are indispensable. We are going to go over one of them today and learn several of its different forms. After reading this article, you’ll know how to say “why” in Japanese.

The first part of this post will go over the three most commonly used words for “why” in Japanese. These are the ones that you’re most likely to hear and use yourself in daily conversation.

After that we’ll move on to some lesser used, but still important words that a person can use in Japanese when they want to ask why. Let’s begin!

How To Say Why In Japanese

The first three words we will cover can all mean “why; how come; for what reason” but the first two are generally used in casual situations, whereas the third and final one is used in formal situations.

You probably don’t have to worry about using the wrong one when you’re speaking since Japanese people will understand you just fine and they are extremely understanding when it comes to foreigners speaking Japanese.

The first word is どうして (doushite) and can be used by itself for informal conversations. You could also attach ですか (desu ka) to the end of it when you are saying it to a person you don’t know all that well and want to show a little extra politeness.

  • どうして?
  • doushite?
  • Why?

Or the more polite version with ですか.

  • どうしてですか?
  • doushite desu ka?
  • Why (polite)?

You’ll also see this word used when people ask themselves questions.

  • どうして噓ついたのかしら?
  • doushite uso tsuita no kashira?
  • I wonder why he lied?

Related: Learn “what’s wrong” in Japanese with どうしたの?

The other word that you can use to ask why is 何で (nande) and it’s common to see it written in both kanji like I just showed and hiragana as なんで.

This word is also casual like どうして which means you can use it by itself or make it more polite with ですか.

  • ミコリン、何でここにいるの?
  • mikorin, nande koko ni iru no?
  • Mikorin, why are you here?

Sometimes in English we ask “why” when we can’t believe what’s happening or the situation is extremely ridiculous. We’re not truly asking for a reason, but are instead expressing emotion through a rhetorical question as in “Dear God, why!”

You can say something similar to this in Japanese with the help of なんで.

  • なんでだよ!
  • nande da yo!
  • Good Lord, why!

This is something you’ll probably hear more often in anime than in real life, but it’s still a useful phrase to know.

The last word that we’ll cover in this section is 何故 (naze) and it still means “why” but this one is generally used in formal situations.

If you have to write a paper, give a speech, or talk to the press it is more likely that you’ll use 何故 than either どうして or 何で.

For example, if you’re taking an online quiz like this one on NHK, you will see 何故 used to ask you “why” since this type of setting would be formal from the organization’s point of view (treating their customers with respect).


Other Words That Can Include “Why”

There are other words or phrases that can include the word “why” when translated into English. I’ll go over some of them now so that you can learn them and understand their meaning when you encounter them in other materials.

The first one is なぜなら (naze nara) and it means “if you want to know why; the reason is because” and is generally used when justifying a decision or a choice to someone.

The first person asks:

  • なんでこれらの食べ物を選んだのですか?
  • nande korera no tabemono o eranda no desu ka?
  • Why did you pick these foods?

To which the second person replies:

  • なぜならおいしそうに見えたからです。
  • naze nara oishisou ni mieta kara desu.
  • The reason why (I choose them) is because they look delicious.


Related: Learn how to say delicious in Japanese.

Another word to learn is という訳だ (to iu wake da) which means “that’s why… as you’d expect…” and is used to explain a situation to someone.

This grammar pattern is a little complicated when you dig down into it, so rather than give you a lengthy explanation of it here, I will instead provide you with a YouTube video on it that you can watch if you’re interested.

Something Else You Should Know

One thing that I didn’t mention earlier, but that would be helpful for you to know is that the first three words we covered, どうして、何で、and 何故 can also be used to ask “how; in what way” instead of “why.”

This can be a little confusing for beginners since we have two separate words in English to say these things, but when you switch over to Japanese they only use the one word for both.

The thing to keep in mind when you’re reading or listening to Japanese is that it is a very context-heavy language. This means that you really need to pay attention to all of the words being said in order to understand what each word means.

I guess you could argue that all languages are like this, but it’s especially true for Japanese.

One of the biggest hurdles that I faced when I was a beginner was the situation where you think you know what a word means, but then you see it used in a different context and your understanding of the word doesn’t work at all with what’s being said.

My best advice for you when learning new words is to accept the meaning you see, but then to remember that it’s always possible this word will have a different meaning in other contexts.

Having this mindset of being a “constant learner” rather than a “know it all” will help you to look for alternative meanings when you encounter words you’ve learned, but can’t seem to understand in the new context.

Over To You Now

Now it’s your turn!

If you’ve got any questions, ask away! Or if you just got a comment that you would like to make on any of the words or phrases that were covered, let me know by typing it down below.

Thanks for reading!

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