Is this sentence grammatically correct. I am particularly concerned about the why part:

As mentioned earlier, the goal is not always 100% clear but it is important to know 'the why' of wanting it.

  • 2
    It's not "grammatical" - that's why 'the why' is in scare quotes. In your specific context, I don't really see why the writer didn't just use the natural construction it's important to know why we want it, but the meaning is obvious even with the "non-grammatical" version as cited. May 13, 2017 at 14:17
  • Your edit invalidated my comment, but whether and where any scare quotes might appear doesn't affect the basic syntax issue. May 13, 2017 at 14:18
  • @FumbleFingers I just corrected the scare quotes.
    – Cardinal
    May 13, 2017 at 14:19
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    @FumbleFingers BTW, what about "why" as a noun? Is it only used in the phrase "‘the whys and wherefores"? Or should be always plural?
    – Cardinal
    May 13, 2017 at 14:21
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    At a certain level I think it becomes a pointless exercise to ask whether some [particular usage represents a "noun" or whatever. Consider, for example, I understand how. I just don't understand why. If how and why aren't nouns there, do they suddenly become so in I understand the how. I just don't understand the why (which is by no means an uncommon construction)? But usages like this don't exactly reflect standard grammar, so whereas it's fine for advanced learners to be aware that such forms are used, for people wanting to learn basic "grammar", they're just a distraction. May 13, 2017 at 16:28

1 Answer 1


It is correct, and it's a construction that is used frequently. The scare quotes are not strictly necessary in this sentence, but they are not infrequently used, either. You will even find occasional use of double-quotes.

Saying the why or the what or the where is an idiomatic way of suggesting the type of questioning needed. You can think of the why as being roughly synonymous with "the answers to why questions", and as you can see below, if you want to add a subject afterwards, you use the preposition "of":

Why the 'Why' of the Sale Matters More Than the 'What'

The BBC's Show The Why Factor

The Why, What, and How of Management Innovation

And here is a particularly fun one that's a little hard to decode:

The Why Behind the How and the What of Content Strategy

US News & World Report: Revisiting the Why of Watergate

The NIH study Weight isn't selling: The insidious effects of weight stigmatization in retail settings: "Second, we examine the "why" of weight-based stigmatization and find that weight-related negative stereotypes compound to produce indirect but strong effects of stigmatization in retail settings (Study 2)"


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