Just now I wanted to explain why I was doing something, then I wrote "the purpose of doing something is blablabla". Immediately I wondered why I didn't write "the reason of doing something is blablabla" instead. It seems to me that the words purpose and reason are perfectly interchangeable in this context. On the other hand, however, the word purpose impresses me as "where is it going" while the word reason carries the connotation of "where is it coming from". In this sense, they seem to contradict each other.

Any one can explain this phenomenon to me? Maybe it is only me that is confused due to misconception of the two words.

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    I agree with the connotation of purpose=goal, reason=history, so I would choose the word and explanation that would satisfy the requestor. – Kristina Lopez Nov 23 '12 at 16:51
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    But you'd want purpose of and reason for, I think. – Andrew Leach Nov 23 '12 at 16:56
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    It's just that reason and purpose happen to overlap in the sense of "motivation", making them interchangeable in this particular context. The reason = "where is it coming from" sense is completely separate - it's not a "connotation" that has any bearing on the choice made in this context. – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '12 at 18:10
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    @FumbleFingers Perhaps there is a difference in describing something looking backwards to its past versus forwards to its future. What originally/initially caused this or that, versus what will this eventually cause. In some languages, this is clearer than it always is in English. – tchrist Nov 23 '12 at 18:58
  • @tchrist: I agree there's a real-world difference between "this [now] because of that [in the past]", and "the other [in the future] because of this [now]". But it's not obvious to me why this should lead to any confusion about cause and effect, even if we happen to use the same words (reason, because, or just plain as) when linking the two. – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '12 at 21:14

I was inclined to suggest that this was a general reference question, yet the answer wasn't obvious to me either! Here we go, in a variety of contexts, which is why the question is of interest to me too.

English usage and definition
Do purpose and reason mean the same thing?

To do something for a purpose means you're doing it to accomplish something else, which is your PURPOSE. Accomplishing a purpose is only one of many reasons why we do something--in this case, REASON is more like "motive."

A reason can be trivial or illogical. One can purchase something for the reason that one likes how it looks e.g. I might buy sky-blue colored suede, open-toe, high-heel pumps because they're cute, but that won't accomplish the ultimate purpose in buying footwear, which is to facilitate walking.

The reason for which something is done, or the reason it is done in a particular way, is the purpose. Reason motivates action.

Purpose and reason are neither synonyms, nor antonyms, which was part of the question. As a part of speech, both words are nouns. That is the similarity. This is the difference:

Purpose is the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists while Reason is a cause, explanation or justification for an action or event.

Side bar: It is more appropriate to say "The reason for blah is blahblah". Usage is context-specific with "purpose" e.g. "The purpose of blah..." versus "The purpose for blah...".


In my view the Purpose is what you want to achieve (e.g. become a millionaire or become a moviestar), the Reason is why you want to achieve it (e.g. you want to live free of financial worries or you like to entertain people).

Consider this quote:

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Here, the purpose is to really live and the reason why is to have enriching experiences.


I will give you my point of view, with an example. The reason I run daily is to stay fit, the purpose of me staying fit is to live a healthy life. It seams when we provide a reason, and still ask why afterwards, and run out of WHYs, the final answer is the purpose.


Purpose is always subjective, whereas reason can be either subjective or objective. Choose the best answer: "What was the reason for/purpose of the kettle exploding?" The two nouns also have quite different collocations: "Can you give your reasons for ....?" "Can you state your purpose in ....?"


It is indeed true that the reason for an action precedes the action, while its purpose follows it, which implies that the two are altogether different. On the other hand, it is also true that, in everyday communication, a locution such as ‘the reason for this action is X’ is interchangeable with ‘the purpose of this action is X’. How can these two, seemingly contradictory, truths be reconciled?

The explanation is that, even though the reason itself precedes the action, the content of the reason (what the reason is about) usually involves something that follows the action. In other words, the reason for an action is usually that it is expected to accomplish some particular purpose. The two therefore tend to merge when they are spoken of casually, in spite of being, strictly speaking, quite distinct.

For example, suppose that I am going to the grocery store. The purpose of my doing so is having the ingredients necessary for the dinner tonight. That purpose will be achieved after the action of going to the store. What is the reason for the action? The reason is that I have formed the plan to eat at home tonight, together with my having opened my refrigerator and realized that it was empty. The planning for the dinner, and the discovery of the emptiness of the refrigerator took place before the action of going to the store. However, if I am asked for the reason, I am unlikely to say ‘The reason is that I made a plan to eat at home, and discovered that I didn’t have any groceries’; such an articulation of the reason, although accurate, would be overelaborate for the purposes of casual conversation. Instead I will say ‘to get something for dinner’. This brief formulation conveys the content of my reason in a way that is perfectly satisfactory for the purposes of casual conversation, but it obscures the fact that the reason itself has appeared in the past, even though it concerns something that will happen in the future. As the content of the reason is the purpose of the action, such an informal specification of the reason for an action is interchangeable with a specification of its purpose, even though the reason and the purpose are distinct.


I woke up with this scripture ‘and for this reason the son of man was manifested to ...’ I couldn’t remember the rest (I thought it was to destroy the works of the flesh, but I wasn’t sure) so I had to go look it up. It is 1 John 3:8. When I read it in King James version it actually says , ‘and for this purpose, the son of man was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. 
I began researching the two different meanings (purpose and reason) and what others have said about the difference. There is a mixed bag.
These are my own thoughts : Purpose is the ‘umbrella’ overarching reason, the global and ongoing task with many attributes, functions and activity brought to bear (and if you like). It is the big ‘DO’. Whereas ‘the reason’ is singular, to destroy the devil - a little ‘do’ . The only way I can explain it. After all, I am English /of Jamaican heritage born in the UK . I wake up with a rhythm and a sound (I knew this was John’s sound - do you know we all have one ?) . I love playing with and researching words. 🙂

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    Linda, you say "I began researching the two different meanings (purpose and reason) and what others have said about the difference." If you edit your answer to include the results of that research, citing the sources, this would be a valuable contribution to our site. As it stands, you've only provided a personal opinion on how the words relate to one text, which is not what our site is after. I recommend you read How to Answer and take the Tour. – Chappo Says Reinstate Monica Oct 2 '18 at 4:22

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