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I would like to know how to properly write, somewhere in a paragraph, the phrase "Why questions". By which I mean questions of the form "Why... ?".

The sentence I would like to write is "How to answer why questions." How do I format it?


  1. How to answer why questions.
  2. How to answer why questions.
  3. How to answer why? questions.
  4. How to answer 'why' questions.
  5. How to answer "why" questions.
  6. How to answer "why?" questions.

I thought 3 would be best but I would appreciate a second (third, etc.) opinion.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would write it this way:

How to answer "Why" questions.

It really doesn't matter grammatically. There are no rules about this kind of thing. It's strictly a style choice. I use a capital "W" because most "Why" questions begin with "Why", and sentences like "I wonder why the sky is blue" and "He asked me why I liked her" aren't "Why" questions.

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I accept "It really doesn't matter". Cheers. – User 17670 Sep 30 '12 at 16:24
@User17670: You omitted an important word: grammatically. It obviously does matter to you, and it does matter to the reader. Both writer and reader want to make sure that the reader understands as quickly and clearly as possible what the writer is saying and what it means. Writing is visual, so the font style matters. I like John Lawler's suggestion of Why-questions: No quotation marks. – user21497 Sep 30 '12 at 22:56
Yes, you're absolutely right there and it's what I implicitly meant in the above comment. Sorry, I should have been more clear. – User 17670 Oct 1 '12 at 10:18

It depends on what you're talking about, and how formal you're being.

I would normally use

  • Wh-questions

when talking about any phenomenon that applied to all such questions, not just Why.

By the same token, if there were something specific to

  • Why-questions

(e.g, embedded Why-questions don't allow reduction with relative infinitives, the way how does)

  • How to mention the matter is the issue.
  • *Why to mention the matter is the issue.

then that's how I'd do it.

Of course, I try to be fairly formal when discussing grammar; your mileage may vary.

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I assumed that the OP was asking because he or she teaches EFL/ESL and wants to make a simple worksheet. Too much formality rapidly leads to boredom in EFL classes. In Japan and Taiwan, students are drilled to death by their junior and senior high school and university English teachers (usually not native speakers of English) in their grammar classes. EFL/ESL teachers have to be more like entertainers than teachers of content courses: Most EFL students take English classes because they must, not because they're interested in English. – user21497 Sep 30 '12 at 23:09
Unrelated: That example of egregious academic prose was outstanding. Thank you. – user21497 Sep 30 '12 at 23:10
Thank you, thank you. And, of course, I'd like to thank The Academy. Seriously, I'm not here to pay attention to the way some people teach or learn English in unnamed educational systems -- that way lies madness. I'm here to answer questions about English grammar. Period. – John Lawler Sep 30 '12 at 23:24
@User17670: The comment was not for you but for John Lawler. His answer is more technical than mine. I used to be an EFL teacher, and "How to answer Why-questions" is a typical EFL lesson, so I assumed -- incorrectly -- that you were, too, and answered as if you were asking how to style your worksheet. John Lawler is a professor of linguistics and, as he says is "here to answer questions about English grammar. Period." I was talking to him. He answered. – user21497 Oct 1 '12 at 10:53
1. Yes, the comment was aimed at John but it doesn't mean I can't then comment also, especially when you refer to me. This is an open forum. 2. Yes, he did answer, although with as little interest in your anecdote as I have; there are more people on this forum than teachers of EFL. – User 17670 Oct 2 '12 at 0:38

How to answer 'why questions'.

I realize this isn't one of your proposed forms, sorry!

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