How to ask "Why?" - the three ways

The following three phrases all mean "why" in Japanese:

どうして doushite
なぜ naze
なんで nande


The difference? Simply put, なぜ naze is formal, なんで nande is casual, and どうして doushite doushite is neutral. In every day conversation, なんで nande and どうして doushite are equally used very often, but in formal situations where you are expected to behave politely, you probably want to avoid using なんで nande.

なぜ naze is preferred in formal writing, but it is not used very often in speech. You may want to avoid using なぜ naze in speech because it could sound a little too stiff, unless you are talking about something formal such as academic matters.

When in doubt, the neutral どうして doushite is always the safe choice!

Keep in mind that when people speak fast, どうして doushite sometimes sounds like どして doshite; i.e. people don't really elongate the vowel 'o' of when speaking fast.  

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