How come

giovannino

Senior Member
Italian, Neapolitan
Volevi dire how can o si dice anche how come...?
Ciao Marzia, "how come?" corrisponde a "come mai?":

How come? INFORMAL
used to ask about the reason for something:
So how come you got an invitation and not me?
"I don't think I'll be able to go swimming tomorrow." "How come?"
(Cambridge Dictionary)

I'll bet some of the native speakers will object to that colloquial "not me" and tell us we should use "I didn't" instead:)

Edit: scusa, Paul:)
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • M_07

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Ah, capito, grazie.
    Nell' esempio usato da Charles Costante, significa "come mai canti così bene"?.

    Non è proprio uguale al nostro "come mai", vero?
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Ah, capito, grazie.
    Nell' esempio usato da Charles Costante, significa "come mai canti così bene"?.

    Non è proprio uguale al nostro "come mai", vero?
    Sì, forse non equivale precisamente a "come mai". "How come" è difficile da giustificare in termini logici, ma forse si origina da "how does it come about that..?", cioè "come avviene che..?"
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Uhmm........

    Io ho sempre pensato a "how come" come alternativo a "why." :)

    Ci devo pensare un pochino di più ma, per me non credo che esista alcuna differenza di significato, solo che "how come" forse sia più informale o più utilizzata nel parlato. La ragione può essere che non c'è bisogno di cambiare il costrutto della frase per fare una domanda. Ad esempio:

    Statement:You got an invitation and I didn't.

    Question:
    How come you got an invitation and I didn't?
    Why did you get an invitation and I didn't?


    Come vedete è più facile costruire la domanda utilizzando "how come" perché non si deve aggiungere l'ausiliare. Ma è sola una teoria mia. :D

    Se invece volessi aggiungere un tono di "come mai?!" aggiungerei qualche altra parola oppure un certo tono tipo:

    But wait, why on earth did you...
    Hold on, how come YOU got an invitation...
    How is it that YOU got...
    ecc. ecc.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    From the Oxford English Dictionary, entry "how":

    OED said:
    19. how come? colloq. (orig. U.S.) phr.: how did (or does) it come about (that)?
    Interesting that it's of U.S. origin. The first attested use is from 1848.
     

    giovannino

    Senior Member
    Italian, Neapolitan
    If How come...? stands for

    how did (or does) it come about (that)?
    then maybe it is a bit different from Why...? For example, doesn't How come...? make more sense than Why...? in How come he speaks such good English?

    Also, Why don't you go out with her? can be interpreted as a suggestion, whereas How come you don't go out with her? is unambiguous.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I'm not so sure. I never said I agreed with the OED definition. :D For example:

    A: Hey we really need to go to the market.
    B: How come?
    A: We have no food in the house!


    Here "how come" simply means "why (is that)?" To say that it means "How did it come about that you think so" is a real stretch. :)

    In any case, I agree that there are cases of "why" in which "how come" can not be a good substitution, e.g. when "why" introduces a suggestion, as you say. The reason is that "How come..." implies that the action, for whatever reason, is (intentionally) not being done or undergone by the person:

    Why don't you go out with her?
    (You may or may not have already considered going out with her, but in any case, I'm suggesting that you consider it and tell me what you think.)

    How come you don't go out with her?
    (I assume you have already considered going out with her and have decided not to. Why?)

    But I will say that, even in this example, many people will simply use "how come" without that nuance. At least I would! But again, I tend to use them quite interchangeably at times...
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English

    A: Hey we really need to go to the market.
    B: How come?
    A: We have no food in the house!
    Here "how come" simply means "why (is that)?" To say that it means "How did it come about that you think so" is a real stretch. :)
    I would have thought that that would mean "How did it come about that we need to?"
     

    giovannino

    Senior Member
    Italian, Neapolitan
    According to the Longman Dictionary:

    how come? informal used to ask why something has happened or why a particular situation exists, especially when you are surprised by it

    If "surprise" is the particular nuance associated with "how come?" then it's quite similar to "come mai?", which certainly expresses surprise in a way a plain "perché?" wouldn't.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I guess that's why I don't quite agree with the "come mai" translation...because I personally don't see very much "surprise" in my use of "how come." :D

    In my market example above, there is no surprise whatsoever in the use of "how come," which is why I could've easily chosen "why" in its place.

    In my opinion, at least as far my English goes, a sense of surprise is almost always characterized more by stress and tone than by actual word choice. Rising and falling pitches of the voice, etc....
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    Even still, I think it's a stretch. :) Do you really feel a difference in meaning in this example between "why" and "how come"?? I don't.

    Maybe it's an AE thing...
    I didn't say that you couldn't substitute why for how come in this particular instance. In fact I think that in most cases you can. I just don't think they're completely interchangeable as shown by the example given by giovannino in Post 8.
     
    I think we could translate "how come?" with the very informal "com'è che?", unless it's a regional form. Eg.: "how come you were not at home yesterday night?" "com'è che non eri a casa ieri sera?". Suspicious question.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    But again, I would just as easily say, "Why weren't you at home last night?" and it would have just as much or just as little suspicion as "how come," just as in the above post I said that "why" and "how come" have just as much "surprise" as the other. Again, I would change my tone or the stress of words or add some other words in order to add a sense of suspicion:

    So why weren't you at home last night?
    So how come you weren't at home last night?
    Tell me, why weren't you at home last night?
     

    giovannino

    Senior Member
    Italian, Neapolitan
    Brian, I think Charles was referring to a different example in my post, not how come you don't go out with her? but:

    How come he speaks such good English?
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Oh whoops! To tell you the truth, though, the "how come" in "How come he speaks such good English" does not sound very good to me at all, and to be honest, it's about as awkward as using "why" in that sentence really. I would most certainly say:

    How does he speak such good English?
    How is it that he speaks such good English?


    Perhaps the only reason that some might say that "How come" sounds okay is that these (better) alternatives both include "How." Anyway, this is all my personal opinion/ear...
     

    Jez2007

    New Member
    UK
    Uk, English
    If you said 'how come' he speaks such good ....? or even 'how comes' he speaks such good...? You would definately be understood.
     

    underhouse

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Personally, I find the the element of surprise suggested by giovannino's dictionary quite convincing.
    Let's change the "speak English" example into:

    He has been in America for three years, but still he can't speak any English!

    Here, my natural answer would be "how come": I feel it conveys an element of surprise that "why", in my opinion, doesn't have.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Ok I fear I'm going to have to step out of this conversation for a little while since, so far, I'm the only AE speaker contributing. I feel that my English is quite different many others' English, not only because I'm an AE speaker, but also because I'm a southern AE speaker. :) It would probably be helpful to hear from other English speakers first.

    For now, I'll say that in the above example, I would probably preface my answer with a "Really?" which would indicate my surprise, and then say:

    How's that (possible)??
    Why not?*
    How come?
    How not?
    How can/could that be?

    How so?


    *"Why" doesn't really work here since the sentence is negative; "why not" sounds fine to me though...
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Ok I fear I'm going to have to step out of this conversation for a little while since, so far, I'm the only AE speaker contributing.
    This debate has really developed since my post and I think we do have an AE/BE difference. As pointed out it's of American origin and it's probably been adopted in BE with a different shade of meaning. I agree with Charles Costante and giovannino about its use, but as it's of American origin we certainly have to take brian8733's opinion into account.
     

    SOS VOS

    Member
    ITALIAN ITALY
    Perchè nell'espressione "how come" (come mai) , "come" non ha la s finale della terza persona?
    Non dovrebbe essere "how comes" cioè "how (it) comes"?
     

    AshleySarah

    Senior Member
    English - N.Ireland
    Ok I fear I'm going to have to step out of this conversation for a little while since, so far, I'm the only AE speaker contributing. I feel that my English is quite different many others' English, not only because I'm an AE speaker, but also because I'm a southern AE speaker. :) It would probably be helpful to hear from other English speakers first.

    For now, I'll say that in the above example, I would probably preface my answer with a "Really?" which would indicate my surprise, and then say:

    How's that (possible)??
    Why not?*
    How come?
    How not?
    How can/could that be?
    How so?

    *"Why" doesn't really work here since the sentence is negative; "why not" sounds fine to me though...
    Another English native speaker into the fray! I'm BE and AuE, and in answer to the question "He's been in America (or Australia) for three years and he still can't speak any English", it would be natural for me to say "How come?" or "Why's that?" - i.e. What's the reason? My first thought about the origin of the expression was similar to Charles' - "How has that come about?".
    Just an opinion from a "dual" nationality, for what it's worth.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top