reason vs. excuse and/or is there a difference?

I don’t why this came up, but it did. I am sure this is going to be hot one.

Is there a difference between a reason and excuse? Also, how can you tell the difference?

IMHO a “reason” is cause and effect, whereas otoh an excuse is a “lame” attempt to justify something that could have been changed.

A hypothetical anaolgy follows:

reason I was late for work today, because my car was stolen, even though I had it locked, the alarm was enabled, and parked in my locked garage. I also had to give a police report and notify my insurance company.

excuse I was late for work today because I was tired and didn’t feel like filling up my gas tank on the way home last night, so I ran out of gas a block away from home on the way to work this morning.

I am sure this will be debated at length. I have a feeling that everyone’s individual idea of a reason and excuse is possibly quite diverse. I think if anyone wants differentiate between the two, it would be a good idea to present your **own[b/] hypothetical scenario to illustrate the differences.

I also would venture to say that there are a few people who might say there is no difference at all, and that anything and everything can be “dealt with” to work around any such instances.

Reasons are what drives our decisions. Excuses are what we use when our reasons were ill considered. An excuse is not what you offer as the reason for what you did, it is the act of forgiving you for being a putz by the guy to whom you give the explanation of your reasons.

Whether or not they comprise an excuse is up to him. They will be your reasons whatever happens.

Now, when you are listening to excuses you are in the position of excusing the failure if the reasons seem to you to be acceptable. So, you can make his reason an excuse. When you hear a lot of reasons, you can usually rely on the fact that you are being given options for finding an excuse. Most people don’t need all that many reasons for what they do. One is generally enough. Excuses feel more secure in company with other excuses.


A reason is… well, it’s just that. A reason. The reason the tides occur is because of the gravitational pull of the moon.

An excuse is meant to excuse a fault or wrong. You offer an excuse for bad behaviour, for being late for work, stealing, etc.

You can’t offer an excuse for the tides because there is no wrong/fault to excuse.

Zev Steinhardt

I agree with the original assessment.

I think this is an excellent question. Cause I think we have a lot of problems these days due to the inability of people to differentiate between a reason and an excuse.

Like if you want to talk about poverty being a reason for crime, or being abused as a child being a reason for growing up to abuse children, you’ve got a whole group of people ready to say “How can you talk about excuses, they’re responsible for their own actions, what we need is more punishment.” And a whole other group who will accept the reason as an excuse and say well, we should let the guy off.
When in fact there can be reasons that don’t excuse somebodies behavior, don’t mean they shouldn’d be punished, but are relavent to the crime being committed, and maybe, just maybe, might be worth doing something about before the next crime is committed.

If you kill somebody because he is one second away from killing you, you’re reason for killing him may be considered an excuse. If you kill someone because you mother didn’t love you, it may be the reason, but it is not an excuse.
But, maybe if we want a society with less murderers in it, we should think about negelected children as well as new prisons.

I concur completely, betenoir.

It’s the differnce between objective cause and effect, and subjective cause and effect.

I think the ideas presented for defining “excuse” are too narrow.

And excuse actually should let you off the hook and not allow you to be held accountable. Not just be a lame attempt to get out of trouble, as in “making excuses.”

“I can’t come in to work today, because I dropped a bag of cement last night and broke my foot.”

That’s a reason, and it excuses the person from work, especially with a doctor’s corroboration.

“I didn’t come in to work yesterday, because my favorite movie was on STARZ! and I didn’t want to miss it.”

That’s a reason, but it hardly excuses the person for missing work.

The word “excuse”, in the context in which we’re speaking, has come to have the negative connotation, but excuses should legitimize our reasons. The fact that the lame ones don’t adds another level to the expression, but doesn’t nullify the original intent of the word.

Yeah, I am with DAVE, the definition of excuse itself is very subjective. And even if we can come up with an agreement of terms, it doesn’t really cover the issue completely. How many of you out there have been asked a question like “Why did you <whatever>?”. When you say “Well because <whatever>”, you immediately get cut off with “I don’t want to hear excuses!”. Some people seem to feel there are no reasons, ONLY excuses.

Excuse me!
An excuse isn’t always so negative, is it?
If your kid’s at home from school with a bad cold and you write an excuse to the school, that certainly isn’t a wrong to be covered for.

I would agree with DAVEW0071, but would like to add one further distinction.

A reason exists on its own. It is merely a description of what purports to be the cause of the action. An excuse is something that applies to the relationship between two entities. You excuse yourself to someone else. To the extent that there is no other entity that has an interest, there can be no excuse. There can still be a reason.

(Sometimes people use excuse about themselves, as in “my excuse for eating all that fattening ice cream…” but they are positing two sides of their personalities, as in “I know I shouldn’t have done it but I allowed myself…”).