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Looking at this, it seems that when the word 何 is used with the で particle, it roughly translates into "by means of what" or "in what context." Personally, that sounds like asking "how". Is this assumption correct? Or can it change based on situation? Also, would it be appropriate to add の/ん だ/です to the end of sentences that use this combination (since it seems that an explanation is being asked.)

Would a sentence like this be correct?: 何で医者になったの? (How did you become a doctor?)

Thanks!

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    I'd say the usual meaning for "なんで医者になったの" is "why did you become a doctor?". Unless there is a possibility one became a doctor by means of something (e.g. paying someone).
    – Uberto
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 11:30

5 Answers 5

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I agree overall with the other three answers, but I feel there is a difference depending on how it is read.

  • [何]{なん}で 'why'
  • [何]{なに}で 'by what'

Therefore, 何で医者になったの has different meanings depending on how it is read.

[何]{なん}で医者になったの
'Why did you become a doctor?'

[何]{なに}で医者になったの
'By what did you become a doctor?'
Possible answer: [Supposing (counterfactually) that there are several other routes for becoming a doctor] 医師国家試験で 'By passing the medical license test'

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Short answer: no. From your link: "It is also written as 「何で」 but it is read as 「なんで」. This is a completely separate word and has nothing to do with the 「で」 particle."

Long answer: "何で" can be translated as "how," but a more accurate translation would be "by means of what object"? So from the link you posted, "何できた?" is correct, because it is asking "By means of what object (bus, train, bike, etc.) did you come?"

But one does not become a doctor by means of an object; one becomes a doctor by taking an action. So as Ali said, a better way to ask this question would be "どうやって": "What did you do to become a doctor?"

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  • That answer is miles better than mine, upvoting!
    – Ali
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 20:33
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Short answer is yes, 何で can mean 'how' as in 'How did you become a doctor?'. It does however also mean 'Why did you become a doctor?' so it's a little ambiguous.

To avoid that confusion you can use 「どうやって」 instead i.e.

どうやってお医者さんになりましたか?

Hope this helps.

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  • Or also どうして ;)
    – Lukman
    Commented Jul 20, 2011 at 16:26
  • @Lukman But どうして can mean "how" and "why"
    – chocolate
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 7:56
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Another example of the overlap you can often hear is 何でわかった?, which literally would be "Why did you know?" but is best expressed in English as "How did you know?".

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From my experience, なんで can be used as how, but it is context dependent and can lead to confusion.

Native speaker: なんで帰る?
Me: ?? Uh, because it's late... Oh wait, you mean "how am I getting home?" Gotcha. By car.

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