Asking why with "zenme"

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Aside from just meaning "how," 怎么 (zěnme) can also be used to ask "why" or "how come."

Basic Usage

With a Verb


Similar to the question word 为什么 (wèishénme), questions can also be asked with 怎么 (zěnme).

Subj. + 怎么 + Verb + Obj. ?

This has similar connotations to saying "how come" in English. It not only asks why, but expresses some surprise at the situation, and in some cases even disagreement with it.


  • 怎么 还 没 来 ?zěnme hái méi lái? How come he's not here yet?
  • 你们 怎么 打 人?Nǐmen zěnme dǎ rén? How can you hit people?
  • 他 帮 了 你,你 怎么 不 说 “谢谢” ?Tā bāng le nǐ, nǐ zěnme bù shuō "xièxie"? He helped you. How come you didn't say thank you?
  • 你 结婚 的时候 怎么 不 告诉 我?Nǐ jiéhūn de shíhou zěnme bù gàosu wǒ? How come you didn't tell me when you got married?
  • 我们 还 没 开始 吃,他 怎么 已经 吃完 了?Wǒmen hái méi kāishǐ chī, tā zěnme yǐjīng chī wán le? We haven't started eating yet. How come he has already finished eating?
  • 今天 是 星期一,你 怎么 不 去 上班?Jīntiān shì Xīngqīyī, nǐ zěnme bù qù shàngbān? Today is Monday. Why aren't you going to work?

With an Adjective


In this case, it's most common to negate the adjective after 怎么 (zěnme).

Subj. + 怎么 (+ 不) + Adj.


  • 怎么 不 热?Shuǐ zěnme bù rè? Why is the water not hot?
  • 这里 的 川菜 怎么 不 辣?Zhèlǐ de chuāncài zěnme bù là? Why is the Sichuan food here not spicy?
  • 他 亲 了 你,你 怎么 不 高兴 ?Tā qīn le nǐ, nǐ zěnme bù gāoxìng? He kissed you. How come you're not happy?
  • 她 的 小猫 死 了,她 怎么 不 难过?Tā de xiǎomāo sǐ le, tā zěnme bù nánguò? Her kitten died. Why isn't she sad?
  • 每 天 工作 十二 个 小时 ,你 怎么 不 累?Měi tiān gōngzuò shí'èr gè xiǎoshí, nǐ zěnme bù lèi?Every day you work 12 hours. Why are you not tired?

"Why So..." Usage


One pattern this use of 怎么 (zěnme) frequently appears in is with 这么 (zhème) or 那么 (nàme). (For more on 这么 (zhème) and 那么 (nàme), see adjectives with "name" and "zheme.")

Subj. + 怎么 + 这么 / 那么 + Adj.

This use of 怎么 (zěnme) could be translated as either "how" or "why"; the actual meaning sort of falls in the fuzzy region between the two. In any case, it's used to express disbelief: how can (something) be so (adjective)?!


  • 怎么 那么 懒?zěnme nàme lǎn? How can he be this lazy?
  • 昨天 怎么 那么 冷?Zuótiān zěnme nàme lěng? How could it be so cold yesterday?
  • 这些人 怎么 这么 吵?Zhèxiē rén zěnme zhème chǎo? How can these people so loud?
  • 北京 的 空气 怎么 那么 差?Běijīng de kōngqì zěnme nàme chà? How can the air in Beijing be so bad?
  • 你的 汉语 怎么 这么 好?Nǐ de Hànyǔ zěnme zhème hǎo? How is your Mandarin so good?

See also

Sources and further reading