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A) Instead of providing a list of reasons that you want him to fail, why don't you...

B) Instead of providing a list of reasons for which you want him to fail, why don't you...

A) sounds wrong to me; however, if I can say 'the reasons I want him to fail are XYZ', why can't I say A)?

B) sounds correct; however, 'the reasons for which I want him to fail' sounds clunky.

Am I misunderstand something slightly?

  • 1
    We normally speak of "reasons why" not "reasons that", though the latter is possible: books.google.com/ngrams/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 30 '17 at 21:49
  • In A, "that" isn't the right word, "why" would be more accurate. "That" would point abstractly to a list of reasons--I want him to fail reasons #2, 3, and 5. "Why" is the "because" related to the meaning of the reasons. B is technically correct but clunky. But verify that "want" is the right word. Reasons you "want" someone to fail might be that you hate them or you want their job. The general context of your statements is usually more about pessimism--"expect" instead of "want", or even just "reasons why he will fail". – fixer1234 Mar 30 '17 at 21:53
  • @fixer1234, slight correction: "I want him to fail the reasons ..." – Hector von Mar 31 '17 at 0:33
  • books.google.com/ngrams/… – Khan Mar 31 '17 at 4:05
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There are a number of options. Here are the main ones, ordered more or less by frequency of use.


  1. Let's talk about the reason you want him to fail.

This is usually equivalent to "Let's talk about why you want him to fail." Note that in this sentence, it's more common to use "reason" in the singular.

@fixer1234 points out a secondary meaning in the comments: parsing "reason" as the direct object of "fail". (To "fail" something is to cause it not to pass.) It would work analogously to this sentence:

Let's talk about the student you want him to fail.
e.g. a principal wants him (the student's teacher) to make the student fail.

But I would say this misreading is very unlikely for "reason", at least without a great deal of context to explain how a person can cause a reason to fail. So don't let this stop you from using this wording!


  1. Let's talk about the reason(s) why you want him to fail.

This is equivalent to "Let's talk about why you want him to fail" and is very idiomatic.


  1. Let's talk about the reason(s) for which you want him to fail.

This is a little more formal. It certainly can mean the same as the above two.

However, there's another interpretation. The speaker could very well be asking about the reasons for the failure, not for the wanting. That is, "I know you want him to fail. Now, what reasons do you want to cite for his failing?"

This is quite a likely reading, maybe 50/50 with the intended meaning, so I would be careful with it.


  1. Let's talk about the reason(s) that you want him to fail.

This is about the same as (1), including the unlikely second reading, except that the version with "that" is used less frequently in everyday speech.

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Let me start by saying that you can use either of the examples you've provided in spoken English and be understood.

I believe that B is more technically correct because it avoids making an illogical comparison (reasons that you want him to fail gives that you want him to fail a reason).

To avoid sounding overly formal/rigid I would suggest writing:

"Instead of providing a list of reasons why you want him to fail, why don't you..."

Why is both technically correct and doesn't come off as posh.

I hope this helps,

-J

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