Someone asks me a question in very formal conversation. And I want to know why he/she is asking me this question. Basically, I want to know the reason and purpose behind this question. How can I ask this formally and politely? Can I say, what is the purpose of inquiry?


  • Could you give a few lines of the conversation that leads up to this? Also, where is it taking place? On the phone? In the street? When they have come to your office? Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 22:26
  • It seems a very odd construction, we'd need context to see if it could work. It'd need to be fairly extraordinary context to be the case. Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 22:47
  • 1
    Why do you ask?
    – Xanne
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 23:00
  • There isn't certain context in my mind that I can write here. I can give this example: stranger asks me question. I want to know why he/she asks so based on purpose of question, I will either answer or decline. But I don't want to say "why are you asking this to me?" because I don't know him/her. I want to sound cold and formal.
    – Emin
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 23:03
  • 1
    "Why are you asking this to me" is not what we would say any way. The ordinary informal way to say this would be "Why are you asking me this?" or "Why do you need to know?" but formally you might say "Could you tell me why you need to know, please?".
    – BoldBen
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 23:35

3 Answers 3


The answer probably depends on where you are. Where I live "why do you ask" would be considered polite, "why do you want to know" a little less polite, "why are you asking me" considerably less polite. It would probably sound old-fashioned in most places, but one could say "If I may, why do you ask?"


Saying what is the purpose of # inquiry is really formal and would only be used in writing in answer to an authority or in a special case like dealing with, say, HR in an unclear situation (I doubt you would even use it in talking to the police) - and you would want to replace the # with "this" our "your" or "the" because otherwise there's just something missing here.

You asked specifically about a very formal conversation but in the parts of the world I know, even a very formal (spoken) conversation does not always mean to use intensely formal wording. In many situations, using that phrase in a conversation, however formal, would just come across as awkwardly stilted language. Too little information in your question to be more specific, though.

Added in reaction to a comment of yours, although stretching the scope of the question but I think it is warranted here:

Wanting to sound "cold and formal" seems socially off in most situations in most parts of the world where English is used as a first language. If you really need to get somebody off your back unambigously, omitting all expression of courtesy should be quite more than enough (and could be seen as a sign of weakness or lesser education, depending on the situation and other things). Where it does not suffice, and you need or really want to tell a person to stop or go away, you will need to directly tell them so (if the situation is such that you can legally and acceptably do that).

In the latter case, you may again be better off using a basic amount of politeness in some situations (the directness of the statement doing the work here) unless a rude tone is required and may be being used already. But as others have already mentioned, that would depend on context (specifically situation, social class - not necessarily low here in all thinkable situations - etc).


One basic technique in delicate situations is to avoid the word ‘you‘ in your own reply and emphasize the ‘I’ and 'me' instead.

  1. I’m not sure I understand what’s behind the question. Asking me because...?

  2. Actually, what‘s the question? Is it for me?

  3. Happy to answer, but not clear about the question or why for me, exactly.

Eliminating the 'you' removes the attack (You talkin' to me?) or hint of threat that you might have introduced. If I feel my seat kicked in a movie theater, instead of You're kicking me, I find more success with Sorry, I feel some kicking on my seat.

Also, each example asks What? and Why for me? but contains a softener such as I am not sure, actually, exactly. They serve as padding to emphasize polite intent.

  • Thanks for the answer and examples
    – Emile
    Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 12:55
  • asking me because does not work. You have to use: You're asking me because...?
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 13:52

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