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So I know that 何で can be used to ask 'why' or to ask "with what" in a negatively structured sentence. Like, お姉ちゃんは何で学校に行きますか.

But when I wanted to learn how to say, "idk what to say" a Japanese person suggested the same usage to me, like 何で言えばいいか分からない so i'm curious now why isn't it 何を?

I'm a newbie learner sorry if this looks funny.

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    That person must have said 何て, which is different from 何で.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 7:26
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    ah okay can you explain てusage in there as well? what is て used for? Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 7:29
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    言えばいいか means the same as 何言えばいいか. i.e. it has a quoting function here.
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 12:58

3 Answers 3

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As other answers pointed out, it was

何て言えばいいか分からない

何て means "indefinite way" or "how" and it's the adverb form of 何.

It literally means: "If I say (it) in an indefinite way, I wouldn't understand if it's good". -> "I don't know how to say it"

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It was 何て言うの. 何て when used in this context (question form) simply means "what".

And I'll add this, when you say 何を言えばいいか分からない it feels like you are describing somebody else who's at a loss for words, "He doesn't know what to say", not "Idk what to say". I don't have a dictionary backing me up, but it just feels this way after reading a lot.

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How does 何で usage exactly work with 言う?

Why not? But first you have to see that 何で can mean two different things: why (in which case it's read as 何{なん}で) or by what (in which case it's read as 何{なに}で)

So for your two example sentences, they're both correct, but it's just that in the first, the 何で means by what

Q: お姉ちゃんは何{なに}で学校に行きますか
A: 自転車で学校に行きます

Q: By what means does the sister go to school?
A: By bike

In the second sentence, the 何で means why, and is analogous to なぜ or どうして

何{なん}で言えばいいか分からない
I don't understand why is it good if I can say it

In short, 何{なに}で and 何{なん}で are different words that mean different thing.

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