Why do Koreans use why? instead of what? When asked a question

I’ve noticed in several dramas now that when sometimes asked a question a character will respond with why? instead of what?

When I first saw it in a show I assumed it was just a translation error but I’ve now seen it in several shows. I’m assuming it is some kind of translation for how they would respond differently to English. But I’m really curious to know the actual answer. Thanks!


LOL It was the same for me when in K-dramas the line went like this - What are you? - when I was used to - Who are you?
Maybe someone can bring light into this?
Like @ajumma2 or @cgwm808 Thanks, by the way for all the times you helped many of us understand the special things in Korean language, or/and the English/American translation.


I think that’s the equivalent of “Who do you think you are?”
and the “Why” probably means “Why are you asking?” or “Why did you call me?” but I’ll leave it to the experts to answer :sweat_smile:


I always felt that it was used instead of
-Why is this happening to me?
-Why is this happening now?


Can you give me the actual scene where this is happening? It will be easier to explain when I can watch the scene first. Or at least tell me what was being asked when they respond back with “Why?”

This is also dependent on situation. Koreans do say “Who are you?” 누구세요? when they want to know who they are.

But if they say something like “당신뭐야?” (What are you?) then what Vivi said is right. It’s like “Who do you think you are (to do/say/act this way)?”


@ajumma2 I can’t think of a specific scene at the moment, but it usually seems to happen when they have apparently not heard what was said (or want you to repeat something that they can’t quite believe you have said, maybe something slightly cheeky), or if someone says something maybe slightly accusatory and instead of where we would say “what?” they say “why?”


Found this while subtitling. Yumi’s Cells episode 5 @ 00:06:15


She says “why?” to Wung’s reaction.

Another one, just a few seconds later. She says, “Why? Why?”


For those who want to see it, the link to the episode



I think this one is the Korean Why - Wae (Don’t ask me how it is spelled), but you can often hear when someone is using the polite speech, it sounds like Wae-yo.

I am not sure though, I have never taken up Korean, I have a little booklet, but didn’t make it far, and it was for trips, daily conversations …
My only experience by now is almost 13 years of K-drama watching.


The instances where I notice this most, which is slightly different than what the OP is asking, is if one character is staring at another without saying anything. In my part of the US, the common response to this is, “What?” referencing phrases such as, “What are you looking at?”, “What’s on your mind?”, “What’s the problem?”, “What’s up?”, etc. But in Kdramas the usual response is their word for “Why?”, which I assume, in a similar way, is referring to a phrase such as, “Why are you looking at me?” Essentially it’s asking the same thing but from a different frame of reference based on cultural norms in speaking. This is just my amateur interpretation.


Ok. In this case, her 왜? (“Woeh” or Why?) is short for 왜그래? “Why are you being/acting like that?” So it’s like saying, “Why are you giving me that look?” or “Why are you making that kind of face?” or “Why do you look surprised?”


She means 왜(요)?
It is used for “why?” and also for “what?”. I’ve also noticed. They do it all the time. Even when answering the phone, and the caller is someone familiar they can be rude with. Instead of 여보세요 (yeoboseyo) they use wae. Usually in an aggressive tone and of course never with honorifics, since the whole point is to be rude.
It’s probably like saying: “What is it? Why the heck are you calling?”


Yeah, thinking about it some more. It feels like the “correct” (in English) would either be “what?” (instead of why) or if when they usually say why, it feels like it should actually be “why would you ask me that?” and they just shorten it to why?


I don’t know about why they say it but i love it how they speak “why” their way of speaking is so cute. I love it:heart_eyes: