What's the difference between a Reason and an Excuse?

Overhearing a manager berate a worker by saying “I want a reason, not an excuse!” brought back memories of my own dealings with a nasty boss. She asked me why a certain task had not been accomplished in the time allowed, and when I said we had been busy and I was waiting on customers (my primary function), she said she didn’t want to hear any excuses. When I countered that I had given a reason, not an excuse, she accused me of being insubordinate.

So what to you constitutes the difference between a reason and an excuse? And how can you argue with someone who accuses you of giving excuses instead of reasons?

An excuse is a particular type of reason, one that that the person offering it hopes will excuse him or her from responsibilty.You can’t really win when someone accuses you of giving excuses instead of reasons, because what they’re really saying is that the reason you’re giving isn’t good enough.

I understand it a little differently. An excuse will get you off the hook. If the bosstard wants to know why I didn’t make it to yesterday’s meeting, and I explain I had the flu and I was busy vomiting, my absence will be excused. If I say I forgot, or I was showing Samantha how to do something on her spreadsheet, I’m still in trouble. The bosstard will tell me I need to get my priorities straight. He’ll holler and pound his desk, to show what a fearsome guy he is. :rolleyes:

I’m thinking the difference lies in what you are trying to accomplish with your reason/excuse.

If you want to shift or mitigate the blame it’s an excuse.

If you accept the blame it’s a reason.

Sound lame I guess, but there it is for what it’s worth. :stuck_out_tongue:

I think it can usually be decided by clarifying the cause/effect relationship. To use one of the above examples, if you wake up puking and call into work, your sickness caused you to miss work, and that’s a reason. If you decide not to go into work and then call in to say that you are sick, that’s an excuse. An excuse does not have to be a lie, BTW. If a teenager goes somewhere and doesn’t come home or call by curfew and later tells you that the place where she was didn’t have a phone, that might be true–but in all probability, it’s still an excuse; she decided to stay out late, then thought up a plausible excuse on the way home.

An excuse is a subset of reason.

Reason: X happened because of Y.
Excuse: X happened because of Y and therefore X is ok.

It’s a question of whether the person offering the explanation is trying to explain or justify the result.

In the context of personal behavior:

A reason is an explanation why you do a particular thing (or feel a certain way about something, or react to certain things in certain ways, etc.).

An excuse is the justification you use to continue the behavior, once you know the reason.
Example (purely hypothetical):

Reason: “I’m an alcoholic because I was abused as a child.”

Excuse: “I was abused as a child, so it’s okay for me to stay drunk all the time. I’m just trying to ease my pain.”

Reason: factual logical cause for an occurrence.

Excuse: explanation with hope of forgiveness or understanding.

“I asked for a reason not an excuse!”: bad management style, flimsy and pedantic grasp of English language.

When you are the one hearing the reason, you will find that real reasons come one at a time, while excuses come in groups.


A reason is why you couldn´t do a particular thing.
An excuse is why you didn´t want to.

…it’s the same as the difference between an “answer” and a “solution” to an IT consultancy. :slight_smile:

No, it’s the reverse.
An excuse is something that’s not a reason because it doesn’t relate at all.
Like “I’m here on my lunch hour, so it’s not my fault I dropped the tray of expensive crystal.”

From what I have read in Webster they are similar but:

1) a reason is more in a form of an explanation
2) excuse is more a form of justification

The person wants you to explain the event…not explain to justify your actions or feelings…

This is the best functional difference in usage offered thus far.