The ‘Reason Why’ May Not Be Wrong, But It is Redundant
There’s still a debate raging over the phrase ‘reason why’ in grammar circles, with some claiming it’s not wrong because it’s an old phrase.
The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on a book of the same name, has brought an old grammatical debate back to the surface.
The phrase reason why is a pet peeve of mine. If I’m copyediting a story with that phrase, I’ll usually strike out the why.
Why, you ask?
I see the redundancy “reason why” a lot. More disturbingly, I’ve noticed some absolutely absurd justifications for the redundancy: some claim that it has been around so long that no one should object; others claim that the ‘reason why’ is better than the ‘reason that.’
As to the history objection, the blog Grammarphobia points out the Oxford English Dictionary’s examples of reason why dating back hundreds of years, including a line from William Caxton’s 1484 Aesop’s fable translation: “The wulf on a daye came to the dogge and demaunded of hym the rayson why he was soo lene.”
If the phrase had dated back all the way to the year 484, it wouldn’t be any less redundant today.
As to the objection over alternate phrases, this seems like a smokescreen argument to me. Why would we waste time arguing over whether someone should use the reason that over the reason why as if there are only those two options?
I’d much rather go for the third option: the reason by itself.
I’ll even combine the same examples I used in that older post:
The reason why he left early was to catch his flight.
The reason that he left early was to catch his flight.
The reason he left early was to catch his flight.
I hope you’d agree that all three of these examples, even if a bit annoying, are easy to understand.
Even the first one, with the redundancy, communicates the message. The second one, with the unnecessary that, a word that used unnecessarily more than any other word I can think of in our language, still communicates the message.
But it’s the third option that exemplifies word economy, ridding the writing of words that aren’t needed.
No matter how long reason why has been around, being able to communicate the same idea without the why is proof that it doesn’t need to be there to begin with.
At best, then, it’s clutter, which is a great reason to not use it.