I'd also like to have a shot at this. (I am just a learner, so I am more than happy to be corrected by a native speaker.) I couldn't find much information on this in the reference grammar I have, but this is how I understand the difference between почему and зачем: You use зачем when you want to ask someone about his aim or purpose in doing something. (Accordingly, it is supposed that the action in question has been performed on a voluntary basis.) A straightforward example would be: "Зачем ты это делаешь?" ('What are you doing this for?' 'What is your purpose in doing this?') In contrast, почему can be used somewhat more widely, and requires a more factual answer. Think for instance of the questions asked in the natural sciences; they will all contain the word почему and not зачем, because things in the natural realm usually do not have aims of their own. (If you know German, it is helpful to think of зачем and почему as the translations of 'wozu/weshalb/weswegen' and 'warum/wieso', respectively.)
Essentially, почему looks to the past because it asks what previous event caused something (cause and effect), and зачем looks to the future because it asks what future outcome was or is intended (purpose).
In English, both meanings are covered by the word why. What caused the chair to break/why did the chair break? (Почему) For what purpose did you break the chair/why did you break the chair? (Зачем)
There is a subtle difference in French too although it is not stressed in the common language :
- pour quoi : pour quoi prends-tu cet outil ? (for which purpose do you take this tool ?). Pour réparer le sèche-cheveux (to fix the hairdryer)
- pourquoi : pourquoi prend tu cet outil ? (why do you take this tool ?). Parce que le sèche-cheveux est cassé (because the hairdryer is broken)
I don't agree with your comment. I have never read, anywhere in modern french or in French literature pourquoi written "pour quoi".
In french, you can use pourquoi in one word in any situation. Some synonyms exist to add more precision to the question, such as "pour quelle raison" or "dans quel but" but "pour quoi" does not add any subtlety to the meaning of pourquoi. It even reads like rather poorly.
I happen to have a French friend visiting me at the moment. I am doing my duolingo lesson while she is working on a lesson plan for a class she is teaching. I showed her this conversation. She said absolutely French people say "pour quoi" most commonly in the phrase, "pour quoi faire." She wasn't crazy about the example sentences Houbinou offered, but she confirmed pour quoi does exist in modern French. I personally thank Houbinou, because my French is decent--I maxed out Duolingo's offerings in French--but I never before noticed the existence of pour quoi as a separate entity from pourquoi.
"Pour quoi" does exist, but it is true that "pourquoi" will be the correct choice in most cases. Consider "Pour quoi faire?" -> basically "what's the objective?". "Pourquoi faire?" would be grammatically incorrect, something like saying "Why do?" in English. If you want to say "what's the reason why you're doing this" you could say "pour quoi faire", or "pourquoi fais-tu cela?". I admit the difference is subtle and sometimes missed even by native French speakers, but it is there. For an English speaker, I guess the easiest way to understand the difference would be: "Pour quoi" = For what (reason) "Pourquoi" = why Most of the time you will use "why" instead of "for what reason"
Thanks, this really helped. Also, to add on, if one had said почему она готовит? instead of зачем, it would be more of 'Why did she cook' or 'Why is she cooking', whereas "Зачем она готовит?" would be more of a 'Why does she cook'. The latter is asking of the purpose of an action in the Present Simple tense in English, when the action isn't happening at the moment.
Почему - это причина, т.е. дает ответ на вопрос "по какой причине". Зачем - это цель, т.е. ответ на вопрос "для достижения какой цели".
Почему ты ел ? Был голоден. Зачем ты ел? Чтобы восполнить запас энергии, утолить голод. ps: I'll try to explain it in english in next topic
From reading, I would summarise as: зачем = "For what purpose" почему = "For what reason" Motivation vs cause.
So, if the light turned off, you would use почему to determine for what reason the light went off (e.g. the power went out, someone hit the lightswitch, the bulb ran out). But if you knew your friend turned the light off, you would ask зачем, because you want to know his reasoning.
You would usually only ask зачем of a sentient creature, because only they have a purpose. However, you could use зачем to a non-sentient creature, e.g. if I made a machine that falls over every time you stand it up, or a program that deletes itself, you might ask зачем.
If you were asking about the behaviour of natural phenomena, you would use почему. I think that's all very easily understandable, but the real nuance is knowing when to ask a sentient being почему.
e.g. "Why are you at the bottom of this hill". If they're lying on the ground, probably почему- "because I fell" - they aren't there because they meant to get there. If they're digging at the bottom of the hill though you'd ask, "Зачем", because they're maybe an archeologist, or hiding something - they got there with purpose.
There are many comments explaining the meaning of зачем, so I won't go over that here, but my issue with this translation is the English word "cook" instead of "cooking", which sounds more accurate for зачем (if it was почему it could be fine). Could a native speaker confirm this or explain further if my intuition is wrong?
For the same reason you'd ask why anyone does anything ever. Perhaps cooking is the person's passion and you want to know why she is so interested in cooking. "Why is she cooking" emphasizes the immediacy of her action in the predent, while "why does she cook?" asks for her general motivation for cooking in general.
To each their own, I would never ever say "Why does she cook" by itself, without any more information.
Using your example, I would say.. "Why does she enjoy cooking so much?" "Why does she love to cook so much" "Why is she so passionate about cooking?" "Why does she love cooking so much?" "Why does she love to cook so much?"
Why does she cook is an accurate sentence, but sounds inaccurate for зачем, because it means why does she cook in general, and there isnt a good answer to that.(because shes crazy, because. Well, most answers involve for what reason. WHY IS SHE COOKING? because her kids want dinner, because shes hungry.because she likes to cooking. Why would anyone ask why does someone cook? It's as bad as asking why does the mom love her children?
It's more about intent vs. external force. For example: "Why do apples fall to the ground?" in Russian would be "Почему яблоки падают на землю?". We don't use "зачем" because that would imply that apples do that intentionally (and are probably sentient). On the other hand "Why is she here?" can be translated as "Зачем она здесь?" if we are wondering what is her purpose for being here. "Почему она здесь?" would be more about "how did it happen that she's here?", though admittedly the difference between these two is almost negligible.
@Kundoo Your explanation makes a lot of sense. But now I wonder if one or the other is used in a generic sense? For example, if I see a man running down the street, I do not know if he's running for a purpose (maybe he's late for work) or he's running because of something (a dog is chasing him). If I asked him why he was running, which would I use to cover both possibilities?
That depends on what you are really interested in. If you are assuming he has a purpose, and you want to know it, you'd ask "зачем?". "Почему?" is arguably more neutral and doesn't make assumptions, thus giving more freedom in an answer, but in some contexts it can imply a lack of agency in one's actions.
In the context of "why is he running?" both "почему?" and "зачем?" can be used, because the actions of a sentient being usually have both a reason and a purpose. "He is late for work" is a reason, "to get to the workplace in time" - is a purpose. "A dog is chasing him" is a reason, "to run away from the dog" is a purpose. So it really boils down to what you want to know.