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How Come vs. Why: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on October 24, 2023
"How Come" and "Why" both question reasons, but "How Come" is informal and "Why" is universally accepted.

Key Differences

"How Come" is a colloquial expression commonly used in casual conversations. On the other hand, "Why" is a more universally accepted term to question reasons or causes. People might use "How Come" to sound friendlier or less direct, while "Why" is straightforward.
For instance, in a casual chat among friends, "How Come" could be preferred to lighten the tone. In contrast, "Why" is versatile, fitting both formal and informal contexts. When writing for professional or academic purposes, "Why" is the preferred choice over "How Come".
This distinction doesn't degrade the validity of "How Come" but indicates its suitability in relaxed, conversational settings.

Comparison Chart


Neutral (fits both formal and informal contexts)


Common in casual conversations
Universally accepted in questions


Friendlier, less direct

Common Contexts

Conversational, informal writing
All contexts (academic, professional, casual)

Structural Placement

Often starts a sentence without inversion
Can start questions, requiring subject-verb inversion

How Come and Why Definitions

How Come

"How Come" is a colloquial alternative to "Why".
How come the store is closed?


"Why" initiates interrogative statements.
Why did he resign?

How Come

"How Come" seeks an explanation in a casual manner.
How come it's so cold today?


"Why" seeks understanding or clarity.
Why can't we go?

How Come

"How Come" can initiate a relaxed inquiry.
How come he didn't call?


"Why" questions the reason or purpose.
Why are you laughing?

How Come

"How Come" mirrors "Why" but in a friendlier tone.
How come she looks so happy?


"Why" inquires about causes or motivations.
Why is the sky blue?

How Come

"How Come" is an informal way to ask about reasons.
How come you're late?


"Why" universally challenges or probes.
Why do birds sing?


For what purpose, reason, or cause; with what intention, justification, or motive
Why is the door shut? Why do birds sing?.


The reason, cause, or purpose for which
I know why you left.


Usage Problem On account of which; for which.


The cause or intention underlying a given action or situation
Studying the whys of antisocial behavior.


A difficult problem or question.


Used to express mild surprise, indignation, or impatience.


(interrogative) For what cause, reason, or purpose.


Introducing a complete question.
Why is the sky blue?
Why did you do that?
I don’t know why he did that
Tell me why the moon changes phase.


Introducing a verb phrase (bare infinitive clause).
Why spend money on something you already get for free?
Why not tell him how you feel?


Introducing a noun or other phrase.
Why him? Why not someone taller?


(relative) For which cause, reason, or purpose.
That's the reason why I did that.


(fused relative) The cause, reason, or purpose for which.
That is why the sky is blue.


A good article will cover the who, the what, the when, the where, the why and the how.


An exclamation used to express pleasant or unpleasant mild surprise, indignation, or impatience.
Why, that’s ridiculous!
Why, how kind of you!


For what cause, reason, or purpose; on what account; wherefore; - used interrogatively. See the Note under What, pron., 1.
Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?


For which; on account of which; - used relatively.
No ground of enmity between us knownWhy he should mean me ill or seek to harm.
Turn the discourse; I have a reason whyI would not have you speak so tenderly.


The reason or cause for which; that on account of which; on what account; as, I know not why he left town so suddenly; - used as a compound relative.
If her chill heart I can not move,Why, I'll enjoy the very love.
The how and the why and the where.


A young heifer.


The cause or intention underlying an action or situation, especially in the phrase `the whys and wherefores'


Question word; what is the reason (`how come' is a nonstandard variant);
Why are you here?
How come he got an ice cream cone but I didn't?


Is "Why" the same as "How Come"?

Both question reasons, but "Why" is more universally accepted, while "How Come" is informal.

Is "Why" more direct than "How Come"?

Yes, "Why" is straightforward, while "How Come" can sound softer.

"How Come" or "Why"?

"Why" is more universally understood and accepted.

How should I respond to a "How Come" question?

Like any "Why" question, with an explanation or reason.

Why is "Why" preferred in formal settings?

Because of its universal acceptance and straightforward nature.

What does "How Come" mean?

"How Come" is an informal way to ask about reasons or causes.

Can "How Come" be used in formal writing?

It's best to use "Why" in formal writing and reserve "How Come" for casual contexts.

Is "Why" suitable for casual conversations?

Yes, "Why" is versatile and fits both formal and informal contexts.

Why might someone use "How Come" over "Why"?

To sound friendlier, less direct, or more colloquial in conversation.

Do "How Come" and "Why" have the same grammatical rules?

No, "How Come" often starts a sentence without inversion, while "Why" requires subject-verb inversion.

How did "How Come" originate?

It's a colloquialism, likely a shortened form of phrases like "how comes it that..."

Can I use "How Come" in an academic paper?

It's recommended to use "Why" in academic settings for clarity and formality.

Is it wrong to use "How Come"?

No, but it's important to choose based on context and desired formality.

How common is "How Come" in American English?

Quite common, especially in casual conversations.

Do all English speakers understand "How Come"?

Most do, especially in the U.S., though "Why" is more universally recognized.

Is "How Come" accepted in English exams?

Depending on context, but "Why" is usually the safer choice in formal exams.

Why is "How Come" seen as friendlier?

Its colloquial nature gives it a softer, more approachable feel.

How does the tone differ between "How Come" and "Why"?

"How Come" has a friendlier, colloquial tone, while "Why" is neutral.

Why do some people avoid using "How Come"?

They might view it as too informal or prefer the clarity of "Why".

Is "Why" a more international choice than "How Come"?

Yes, "Why" is more universally understood in various English-speaking regions.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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