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¿Por qué?: Why? Because!

Do you ever wonder why "por qué" has an accent in certain instances and not others? In a similar vein: Do you know the reason "porque" is sometimes one word and sometimes two? Tune in to the latest new content at Yabla Spanish and read the captions to see "por qué" and "porque" in action.

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Our team of translators took special pains to put all the accents in their proper places in the captions of this week's installment of the documentary ¡Tierra Sí, Aviones No! You'll see evidence of their hard work in the short excerpt below.

 

¿Por qué? Porque él es el único responsable.

Why? Because he's the only one responsible.

Caption 9, ¡Tierra, Sí! - Atenco - Part 4

 Play Caption

 

Why does the first "por qué" take an accent mark over the é? Because it is used to ask a question, that's why. Remember: "Who, what, when, where and why" (those famous Five Ws of journalism) all take accents in Spanish -- as in "Quién, qué, cuándo, dónde y por qué."

Now that you've got the "questioning word = accent mark" rule in mind, let's look at some trickier cases. One pops up just a sentence later.

 

Pero a nivel ejidal no tiene por qué meterse en nuestro ejido.

But at the cooperative level, he doesn't have reason to meddle in our cooperative.

Caption 13, ¡Tierra, Sí! - Atenco - Part 4

 Play Caption

 

No tener por qué + infinitive ("to have no reason to...") is one of those auxiliary (modal) verb phrases that you simply have to memorize -- or figure it out from context. Listen for it; we think you'll find it's surprisingly common in spoken and written Spanish. In these cases por qué means "reason" or "cause." For example:

No tengo por qué juzgar el comportamiento de otros.
I have no reason to judge the behavior of others.

Sometimes it's best translated in the sense of necessity.

Amor no tiene por qué doler.
Love doesn't have to hurt.

Listening to the lyrics of Belanova's ballad featured this week, we encounter another "por qué":

 

Me pregunto por qué

I ask myself why

no te puedo encontrar

I can't find you

Captions 9-10, Belanova - Me Pregunto

 Play Caption

 

In the song's refrain, above, Belanova lead singer Denise is asking herself a question. We don't need to use question marks to get the idea across; the "por qué" here expresses an indirect inquiry.

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We left you to figure out that "porque" -- one word, no accent mark -- means "because." It begins the answer to many a "por qué" question. Why? Just because!
That is, expressed in Spanish:

¿Por qué? ¡Porque sí!
Why? Just because! (or: Because I said so!)

Grammar

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