Tuesday, June 25

Why or How Come?

In English, a student can make simple questions like:

Are you American?

Do you speak English?

Can I borrow a pen?

These are called Yes-or-No Questions because they can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

But sometimes, a person needs to make a different kind of question. Especially when we need more information or detail. Maybe we want to know a name, age, size, price etc.

This is when Interrogatives become useful. Interrogatives are also called Question Words.

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Have you heard of the formula “5 Whs and 1 H”?

The “5 Whs and 1 H” are basic questions used to collect information. They are used by researchers, writers, and even policemen. To make a complete report, these people get facts using questions that follow the formula.

As a student of English, you can also use this formula. It’s very easy to remember.

The 5 Whs are:

(1) Who

(2) What

(3) When

(4) Where

(5) Why

And the 1 H is:

(6) How

Of course there are many kinds of questions other than the ones above. Here are other Question Words that you can see in English:

More Question Words

How often
How far
How long
How old
What time
How many
What kind
How much
What… for
How come

Basic Question Words

Here again are the 6 basic Question Words with their meanings:

 Question Words

thing, idea, or action

Because Question Words are used to make questions, we have to follow the right pattern. You might already know this but the most basic patterns in English are:

Sentence = Subject + Verb

Question = Verb + Subject

As you can see, the 2 patterns are switched. But please don’t misunderstand that the “Verb” is the same kind.

Take a look:

Sentence = Subject + Verb

Question = Helping Verb + Subject

With these, you can make examples like:


They are studying. = Ok

They live in Tokyo. = Ok

They can speak English. = Ok

If you change them into questions:

Are they studying? = Ok

Live they in Tokyo? = X

Do they live in Tokyo? = Ok

Can they speak Japanese? = Ok

As you can see in our example above, the word “live” is actually an Action Verb so we can’t use it to make a question. We need to add “do” which is a Helping Verb.

Both the other Verbs (are, can) are Helping Verbs, so they’re Ok.

You can follow the same rule with Wh Questions (questions that use Wh words).

Take a look:

What are they doing?

Q = Helping Verb + Subject

Where do they live?

Q = Helping Verb + Subject

What language can they speak?

Q = Helping Verb + Subject

You need to learn and practice this pattern well if you want to make grammatical questions in English.

How come?

Our target expression for today is “How come?”

How come?” is also a Question Word. In fact, it has the same meaning as “Why?”


How come

Are they exactly the same? You’re probably asking yourself now.

How come” is a shortened expression. The original, complete expression is:

How does it come to be that…
( = How did it happen to be this way?)

Because of this, some people actually consider “How come” improper or even grammatically wrong.

But “How come” as an idiom is already a part of the English language. You just have to learn how and when to use it.


First of all, the structure is different when you use “How come” and when you use “Why.”

If you remember what I taught you, the question pattern in English is:

Question = Helping Verb + Subject


Did he watch the show?

Have you eaten Thai food?

Will you help me out?

However, “How come” doesn’t follow this basic pattern. Instead, “How come” follows the sentence pattern (!)

Sentence = Subject + Verb


He likes snowboarding.

It is hot today.

She has bought 3 cellphones.

If you change all our sentences above into questions, you have to switch their Subject and Verb, right? 

Does he like snowboarding? = Ok

Is it hot today? = Ok

Has she bought 3 cellphones? = Ok

It’s the same if you want to make “Wh Questions” :

What does he like? = Ok

How is the weather today? = Ok

How many cellphones has she bought? = Ok

And it’s the same if you want to make questions with "Why."

Why does he like snowboarding? = Ok

Why is it hot today? = Ok

Why has she bought 3 cellphones? = Ok

But look at what happens when you use “How come” :

How come does he like snowboarding? = X

How come is it hot today? = X

How come has she bought 3 cellphones? = X

Like I said, if you want to use “How come,” unlike with “Why” you should follow the sentence pattern. You shouldn’t switch the Subject and the Verb.

This way:

How come he likes snowboarding? = Ok

How come it is hot today? = Ok

How come she has bought 3 cellphones? = Ok

A little strange, huh? But that’s the way we use “How come.” So please practice a lot with all the different patterns.  


First, “How come” tends to be informal compared to “Why.” This means that you shouldn’t use it in formal situations or in writing (if the style is formal). The reason is that in the past, “How come” was a slang expression.

Why” is neutral and can be used in almost any situation.

Second, both “Why” and “How come” can be used to ask about reason or cause. But sometimes, “Why” is a real question because it needs an answer.


Why are you late?

Why did he do that?

Why did they sell it?

How come,” on the other hand, can become a soft question.  Of course it's used to ask about the reason or purpose. But sometimes, it doesn’t need an answer. It may just express an opinion or a feeling like surprise.


How come it’s raining today?

How come you want to stay here?

How come the tables are arranged like this?

Third and last, when we use “How come,” there is sometimes background knowledge. For example, Cindy told you that she’s not going to attend the party. You know this or you believe this, so you expect. This is your background information.

But at the party, you see Cindy. So you feel surprised. You can ask:

How come she’s here?

Why” doesn’t have this kind of background. You just ask:

Why is Cindy here?

P.S. The expression “Why come” is grammatically wrong. It is a fusion of “Why” and “How come.” At best, it’s a very informal expression. It’s usually heard in Hip-Hop slang.

Hope You Learned Something!

Keep on learning !

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