Whenever I write sentences of the form

I don't understand why X did Y.


I wonder why she did that.


I would like to know how you did it.

These sentences are actually not good examples of usages of these words "why" and "how" (and other interrogative words) where I find their usage not very sophisticated, but, right now, I can't come up with better examples. However, I am sure that sometimes I have the feeling that using "why" in similar situations to the sentences above doesn't sound very sophisticated. Or, sometimes, it looks like I am using "why" too many times, so I am being repetitive.

Are these usages somehow unsophisticated? Are these words avoided e.g. when writing a scientific paper or any other more technical document? My impression is that they are avoided. Is there a way to circumvent these usages? If yes, how would you do it?

Here, "why" and "how" seem to be used as "adverbs". Is this correct? By the way, would you call words such as "why", "how" and "what" "interrogative words", even if they are not really being used as interrogative words (as in the sentences above)?

1 Answer 1


These are perfectly valid uses of "why" and "how". There is nothing unsophisticated about them.

These sentences, as written, would be unlikely to appear in a scientific paper, but not because of the use of "why" and "how". Rather, a scientific paper would be unlikely to say, for example, "I wonder why she did that", because a scientific paper isn't supposed to be speculating about the motives of one individual. If it's a paper on a hard science, a person's motives should be irrelevant. If it's a sociology paper, you shouldn't be "wondering" about people's motives but investigating them. That is, the problem is not the word "why" but the word "wonder". I suppose a scientific paper might say something like, "We wondered why the magnetic field was weaker than the theory predicted. To investigate, we re-configured our test instruments to ..." I guess the sentence isn't impossible. A researcher might wonder why a previous researcher conducted an experiment in a certain way, etc. But it's an unlikely thing to say.

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