'Why did you ...' and 'Why would you ...'

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jane2013

Member
Vietnam
Hello everyone. Is there any difference between these two patterns of question? Are they interchangeable?

For example, can I say this:
- A: I've just quit my job.
- B: Why did you do that? / Why would you do that?

Thanks.
 
  • iMak7

    Senior Member
    Russian, English
    There is a subtle difference between these two sentences. They can often be interchanged because they both convey this message of person B not understanding why person A quit. But here's what makes them different:

    1) Why did you do that? – is a simple way of asking what the reasons for doing that are, there's this fact of person A quitting his job and we want to know what made him do this.

    2) Why would you do that?– reveals that person B contemplates about a more general and even hypothetical situation, thinking of all possible reasons that could make person A quit. It also implies that person B is surprised, because maybe they thought that person A had a very good job and was satisfied with it.

    So in terms of the answer you would get when you ask any of these questions they basically are interchangeable, but taking into account B's attitude towards this, their feelings, 1) and 2) convey slightly different messages. Maybe I couldn't make myself clear enough but I hope this helps!
     

    jane2013

    Member
    Vietnam
    Thank you very much. I can understand your explanation. 'Why did you do that?' asks only about the reason. A doesn't have any special feelings about this. Meanwhile, 'Why would you do that?' is like 'Why did you do such a thing?'
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Also, 'would' doesn't imply the person did quit:

    - C: I'm thinking of quitting my job.
    - D: Why would you do that?
     

    iMak7

    Senior Member
    Russian, English
    Well, seems like you understood the concept, but your example is somewhere 'in the middle' between 1) and 2) in terms of semantics. 'why did you do such a thing?' is nearly the same as 'why did you do that' (only showing more surprise). What makes sentence 2) different from sentence 1) is this 'would' that connotes some sort of hypotheticality and surprise.
     

    jane2013

    Member
    Vietnam
    To entangledbank: Oh this is a new case. Yes, I can understand this idea. Thank you.
    To iMak7: Okay, so I just need to use the word 'would' when I want to connote some sort of hypotheticality and surprise.
    Thank you for your time.
     
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