Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between How Come and Why

How Come and Why

People ask for reasons in certain situations. To satisfy someone’s curiosity, people often use “how come” and “why” to inquire for reasons, causes, or purposes for things.

There are many acceptable instances where “how come” and “why” can be used interchangeably. However, there are also instances wherein they cannot be substituted for one another. Substituting “how come” for “why” sometimes ends up with a sentence or question that doesn’t make sense. Therefore, usage of both openers should always be appropriate within the context.

Although “how come” and “why” are similar in function, there are slight differences in many areas. One of these notable areas is the situation or the time of the utterance. In formal situations, “why” is always used and the correct opener. It is also the preferred opening for writing interrogative sentences. Meanwhile, “how come” is used for informal or casual situations. This is also a phrase often used by children and second-language learners at the start of their language education.

Another difference is that question openings are different in tone. “How come” can indicate a soft inquiry (usually on the subject of the method and not of a general inquiry), disbelief, or accusation in the context of its usage. On the other hand, “why” can also sound or be interpreted as authoritative and demanding in its use.

Another concern regarding their usage is the presence of a presupposition or an assumption of an event. In “how come,” there is an element of presupposition that often results in a disbelief or accusatory tone of voice. In contrast, “why” doesn’t have this presupposition or any background belief.

“How come” is the short form or abbreviated version of “How come it came to be that way?” While “why” is not an abbreviated word of any long phrase or a set of words. In addition, “how come” is considered to be grammatically incorrect.

A slight difference is also noticeable in writing. “How come” added with the verb form “be” will express a pattern of no inversion of noun and verbs. The same is not true for “why.” There is an inversion of the noun and verb under the same conditions (“why” plus the verb form “be”).


1.“How come” and “why” perform the same function as a sentence opening for questions. Both terms are probing terms to determine purposes, justification, motive, and intention.
2.“How come” is an abbreviated form originating from the longer phrase “How come it came to be that way?” It is the standard question form for children or language learners. On the other hand, “why” is used by learned language users and is not an abbreviated form of any phrase or sentence.
3.“How come” is often used in informal occasions while “why” is the norm in formal instances like writing. The reason for the informality of “how come” has its origins as an American slang.

4.The formal use of “why” makes it a standard question form and commonly used word compared to “how come.”

5.The tone of “why” can be interpreted as authoritative and demanding while “how come” can imply an accusation, disbelief, or surprise. “How come” can also give a softer and less confrontational tone or attitude from the asking person.
6.The matter of presupposition is also an area of difference between the two terms. “How come” indicates a sense of presupposition. In contrast, “why” doesn’t imply any presupposition on the user’s part.
7.Context is a great judge on what sentence or question opener should be used. Both “how come” and “why” can be used interchangeably in many situations. However, there are instances where the use of “how come” in replacement for “why” ends up in a confusing sentence or question.

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  1. “How come it came to be that way”?! Really?! Certainly you are attempting humor. Only a young child ( maybe) or an uneducated person would ever attempt this one with a straight face.

    • I would say it would be shortened from the phrase “How did this come to be”

    • You could have stopped with “how come it came…”

      It’s absurd to use two tenses of a word as an explanation.

      Otherwise, the explanation is ok as far as I can tell. Wish an English major, linguist, or historian could have weighed in. I can speculate as well as anyone else. This article doesn’t give me much confidence in its accuracy.

      How come there aren’t any citations? Why aren’t there any to-learn-more links?

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