I'm reading a book that got me thinking about the difference between なぜ, なんで and どうして; as context, the speaking character (ガラザイア) is asking another character (ギルロア) why he killed ルイーゼ様. The second character was close to ルイーゼ様 and her brother (レメディオス), and all the rebellion trusted him; I don't think it's relevant, but while the speaking character is convinced the other killed ルイーゼ様, it's never said so, and it could well be he didn't.

The narrator is a third character, which is secretely listening to the conversation. This is the exchange that got me thinking:












Not sure if it's relevant, the speaking character is growing increasily frustrated and angry.

I found this answer explaining that while なぜ just asks for a cause, どうして and なんで also asks for method; but in this case I really feel like the method is completely irrelevant, both because she already said it in the first quoted sentence, and because really it doesn't seem to matter how he betrayed her, but just the fact he did.

So, I was wondering what's the meaning and/or nuances of asking both なんで and どうして (and, at the beginning, なぜ) in this case.

1 Answer 1


I think you get the meanings right. Simply put, なぜ is always why and the other two mean sometimes simple why and sometimes asking for method (so they are ambiguous to some extent).

When asking for a method, なんで is considered as 何+で=with what. As such, it can be pronounced なにで which unambiguously asks for a method (i.e., なにで cannot mean simple why).

どうして in the method-asking sense should be another form of どうやって, which I think is more common. (In most cases, I would understand どうして as why rather than asking for method).

As a side note, my impression is that どうして and なんで for why are more colloquial, perhaps more common in casual speech. なぜ sounds formal or mature (or kind of pressing), but it may depend. (I cannot imagine a child using なぜ to parents).

The formal nature of なぜ may at least partially explain the usage in the question: なぜ for the first enquiry, then どうして/なんで for talking to himself(?). Use of two different words (instead of どうして、どうして or なんで、なんで) is a matter of variation.

  • So it's just asking in English "Why... why...", with a bit more variation in the words used, but no real added nuance?
    – Mauro
    Dec 20, 2021 at 15:05
  • 1
    In terms of literal meaning, yes. It is just why...why... But using どうして/なんで implies that the speaker is no longer really asking the hearer and that he can not suppress his feelings and is confused. Using なぜ here instead would sound like he is still demanding the answer (although it does not fit with くっ).
    – sundowner
    Dec 21, 2021 at 0:13

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