Is it improper grammar to say 'how come' instead of 'why'?

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September 30, 2012 3:58AM

"%22How_come?%22_or_%22Why?%22" id=

"%22How_come?%22_or_%22Why?%22">"How come?" or "Why?"

Popular Opinion- Technically it would not necessarily be

wrong but many English teachers and professors prefer why because

it is more mature-like and understandable without sounding like a


Answer- Although it is not improper, to use "how come" it

in the place of "why" is an American idiom that some

teachers would like to eliminate. It is most often used today in

informal speech, even though it appears in educated journals in the

19th century. It is a shortened version of the phrase, "how does it

come to be..."

"How come", in its proper usage, differs from "why" in that "how

come" is factive, whereas "why" is not. "How come" presupposes its

complement; "why" does not. Anastasia Marie Conroy of the

Linguistics Department at the University of Maryland discusses

these and other differences at length in her article The

Semantics of How Come: A Look At How Factivity Does It


To further illustrate the above, the question, "How come I have

to stay after school?" indicates that the speaker wants to know the

reason that they must stay after school. On the other hand,

the question "Why do I have to stay after school?" could mean the

same thing or that the speaker would like to know why he or she

should stay after school, as in "Why do I have to stay after

school (when I can get my work done at home)?"

Other Answers-

Yes it is improper. Example: "How come I have to stay after

school?" to "Why do I have to stay after school?" You can see the

difference. The reason one must speak fairly good English (not all

the time and we can get sloppy when relaxed) is when you get out in

the business world. A well-spoken person always stands out and

sounds much more educated than they actually may be.

How come is never acceptable in English English.


There's nothing wrong with how come? It is somehat

colloquial, which isn't a problem.

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