\ ˈ(h)wī How to pronounce why (audio) \

Definition of why

 (Entry 1 of 4)

: for what cause, reason, or purpose why did you do it?

Definition of why (Entry 2 of 4)

1 : the cause, reason, or purpose for which know why you did it that is why you did it
2 : for which : on account of which know the reason why you did it


plural whys

Definition of why (Entry 3 of 4)

1 : reason, cause wants to know the whys and wherefores
2 : a baffling problem : enigma

Definition of why (Entry 4 of 4)

used to express mild surprise, hesitation, approval, disapproval, or impatience why, here's what I was looking for

Synonyms for why

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Interjection

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of why in a Sentence

Adverb Why did you quit your job? Why is the sky blue? Why didn't you call me? Why didn't I think of that? “I can't go out tonight.” “Why not?” Conjunction I know why he did it. It's easy to see why she fell in love with him. He's a very good player. That's why he made the team. The reason why they succeeded is obvious. They worked really hard. Give me one good reason why I should stay. Noun asked the whys behind the surprising decision how one decides that a certain he or she is “the one” is one of the great whys of life Interjection why, what a strange thing to say! See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb The Justice Department will ultimately need to explain to the American people why the FBI took such a stunning step of raiding a former president’s home. Ben Kamisar, NBC News, 9 Aug. 2022 On this episode, hosts Elizabeth Trovall and Joey Palacios try to answer the question of why many Haitians went to Chile after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Los Angeles Times, 9 Aug. 2022 So, why should the average sports fan tune into a jai-alai match? Fox News, 9 Aug. 2022 So, after breaking down the structure of why companies exist, what is the most important process in the company? Arijana Koskarova, Forbes, 9 Aug. 2022 That’s why, despite the House Committee on Energy & Commerce finally advancing the American Data Privacy and Protection Act last month, California has come out as a strong opponent of the bill. David Meyer, Fortune, 9 Aug. 2022 Perhaps that’s why people tell themselves that luck is actually just hard work. Wired, 9 Aug. 2022 Citing the story, an inquiry commission asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to order Goldy to show cause why he shoudn’t be temporarily suspended from practicing law. Andrew Wolfson, The Courier-Journal, 9 Aug. 2022 That's why the relationship, the longitudinal relationship that family physicians have, and pediatricians have, over time helps allay that fear. Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press, 9 Aug. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Cain opines on the why-and-how of private mega-yachts, which have grown mind-bogglingly massive (such as the 533-foot-long Eclipse, replete with submarine, owned by Russian business mogul Roman Abramovich). Laura Manske, Forbes, 27 Oct. 2021 Not everyone may want to abandon teaching manners altogether, but these insights do suggest rethinking our approach, focusing as much on the why of courtesy as the how. BostonGlobe.com, 23 Oct. 2019 Worst of all, the cult of lethality attempts to divorce the how of killing from the why, an insane proposition given that military force is deployed in the service of political outcomes. Jared Keller, The New Republic, 9 Sep. 2019 And the why is that it’s, unfortunately, human nature that has presented itself in so many, many ways. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, 13 July 2018 History doesn’t often remember the why, just the what. Philip Elliott, Time, 26 Sep. 2017 But instead of getting bogged down by the calories consumed or the grams of fat encountered, Alpert turned the conversation to the why. Logan Sykes, Town & Country, 2 Jan. 2017 Recent Examples on the Web: Interjection Why, oh why, do the Rangers keep throwing away almost certain victories in the final minutes of playoff games? Filip Bondy, New York Times, 30 Apr. 2017 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'why.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of why


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1519, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for why


Middle English, from Old English hwȳ, instrumental case of hwæt what — more at what entry 1

Learn More About why

Time Traveler for why

Time Traveler

The first known use of why was before the 12th century

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near why



why bother

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for why

Last Updated

11 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Why.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/why. Accessed 16 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for why


\ ˈhwī How to pronounce why (audio) , ˈwī \

Kids Definition of why

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: for what cause or reason Why did you do it?



Kids Definition of why (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : the cause or reason for which We know why you did it.
2 : for which Here's the reason why I did it.



Kids Definition of why (Entry 3 of 3)

used to express surprise, uncertainty, approval, disapproval, or impatience Why, how did you know that?

More from Merriam-Webster on why

Nglish: Translation of why for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of why for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

The Great British Vocabulary Quiz

  • union jack speech bubble
  • Named after Sir Robert Peel, what are British police called?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!