Is How Come Proper Grammar in English?

English is a universal language, with a plethora of ways to describe the same idea or the same thing with a little different connotation. People ask questions in different situations.

Is how come proper grammar in English?

‘How come’ is common and grammatically correct English, but it is not proper English. In fact, “how come” is a colloquialism and has a slightly different use than “why.”

To elaborate, “how come” is an abbreviation for “How did this (position, condition, state of affairs) come to be?” As a result, it can occasionally stand in for ‘why,’ but not always.

Though it originated in a more formal context, its abbreviated version has a more casual tone. It is now primarily used in dialogues and colloquial language.

Is “How Come” More Common in American or British English

Americans began using the phrase “How come” around the mid-1800s. The phrase originates from old expressions such as “how is it that.”

Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanism provides the earliest entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for “how come, ” published in 1848. Although the OED claims that “how come” was invented in the United States, Bartlett’s article shows that it was invented in England.

The question may remain whether “how come” originated in the United States or not. But a search of the text in Google Books shows that it is still more common in American English than in British English.

How come vs. Why: Which one to use?

Substituting “how come” for “why” can sometimes convey a different meaning or may not make sense at all. Therefore, understanding their distinction is vital to appropriately use them in different contexts.

First and foremost, the word order of a question formed with “how come” vs. “why” is different. There are structural differences in the formation of the sentences with these two words.

Usage of “How come” in English

Using “how come” doesn’t change the word order of a sentence. The “how come” question structure is as follows:


Generic statement: You didn’t go to the party

“How come” Question: How come you didn’t go to the party?

“How come” is for a more friendly setting to show that the person asking the question is surprised by the information.

Example 1: You loved painting. How come you’re not participating in the art competition?

Example 2: How come you’re still at home? (I thought you had an important interview today)

It’s recommended not to use “how come” in more formal settings like work, meetings, or presentations.

Usage of “Why” in English

When using “why” to ask questions, you need to change the word order of the statement. The “why” question structure is as follows:


Generic statement: You are baking a cake.

To ask the statement as a “why” question, you need to change the order of the auxiliary verb “are” and the subject “you.”

“Why” Question: Why are you baking a cake?

“Why” is for a more formal setting to show that the person asking the question wants a reason for the information.

Example: Why are you leaving the class? (I know you’re leaving the class, but what is the reason?)

“Why” is a versatile question word for formal and informal settings. There’s no restriction on its usage.

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Difference between “how come” and “why”

How come” and “why” both perform as openings for questions to determine the purpose, justification, motive, and intention of something. But how something came to happen is different than why something happened. Although the functions of “how come” and “why” are similar, there are minor differences in many situations.


How come” is an abbreviated version that originated from the longer phrase “How did it come about that?” This is a standard question format for children or people learning English as a second language.

However, “why” is not a shortened form of any word, phrase, or sentence. It is mainly used by people who have already learned the language and are well-versed in it.


“How come” is for informal situations, whereas “why” is the standard form used in formal occasions like writing. The informality of “how come” is due to its origins in American slang.

Why” is usually the appropriate question starter for formal contexts. It’s also the most common way to start an interrogative sentence.

How come” is used for informal or casual contexts. This is a term that many children and second-language learners use when they first begin their language studies.


Both “how come” and “why” are used for question opening, but they have a slightly different tone. In terms of usage, “how come” might imply a gentle inquiry on the subject matter rather than a general inquiry, doubt, or accusation.

On the other hand, the tone and use of “why” might be interpreted as authoritative, powerful, or demanding.

To Wrap Up

It is important to make sure that the meaning is clear in every sentence in your text. This is because “how come” can be confused with “why” in meaning.

Knowing the different variations in their uses is also essential to understanding the proper usage in a sentence. If you’re wondering is how come proper grammar in English – this article compares “how come” and “why” to answer your question.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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