What vs. Why

'What' and 'why' are interrogative pronouns that are used to ask some questions to get information. So, what are the differences between them?

"What" vs. "Why" in the English Grammar

What Are Their Main Differences?

The key difference between 'what' and 'why' depends on the information given to each question in other words, the difference relies on the answers they seek for. Actually, 'why' asks for an explanation or reason for something. 'What' is used to ask questions about things and actions.


'What' and 'Why' as Relative Pronouns

  • 'What':

cannot be used as relative pronoun; so there must be an alternative, which in this case is the term 'that'.

  • 'Why':

can be used as a relative pronoun itself.

I do not know why he is always sad.

This is the car that I dreamed to have. (Not "This is the car what I dreamed to have.")

She wondered why he fainted while talking.

The school that I used to go was too big and fancy.

Can We Use 'What' and 'Why' as Exclamations?

The answer to this question is: 'not both'. We are allowed to use 'what' as an exclamation, but we do not use 'why' as an exclamation. So, let us learn them through examples. Remember not to forget to put an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence.

What a nice day! ( Not "Why a nice day!")

What a good boy! ( Not Why a good boy!)

What They Require as an Answer?

  • 'What':

Actually, the term 'what' is concerned with the question about things and actions.

  • 'Why':

The term 'why' is concerned with the question of 'for what'.

What are you up to, tonight? I wonder if we could be together for dinner.

Why is he here? I do not want to see him ever again.

What is your mother?

Why are you staring at me?

Making Questions by These Interrogative Pronouns

Since the term 'why' asks for the reason of something there is not any other way but its usual way to make questions. By the usual way, we mean to put the interrogative 'why' at the beginning of a sentence and then make a yes/no question that follows it. This method also works for questions with 'what', unless we are questioning the subject of a sentence. In this case, you should put the interrogative pronoun 'what' instead of the subject and put a question mark at the end.

Why do you spend much money on something like this?

What did you do with the hard exam?

What smells bad in this kitchen?

Here in this example, the answer can be the spoiled meat smells bad in this kitchen. Since the answer is the subject of the sentence, to ask questions all you have to do is to put the wh-word instead of the "spoiled meat".


What for and Why

  • 'What' and 'why':

are likely to have the same meanings, if 'what' comes with the term 'for'. Since you might be confused, let us look at the examples for more clarification.

What is this used for?

Why do you use this?


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