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Life beyond "How are you?": The most common English greetings (and how to answer them) (AUDIO+GIFs)

You go to work and your English-speaking colleague, Ryan, approaches you in the hallway. He gets closer, smiles politely, and says "Hey." You respond with "Hey, Ryan. How are you?" Ryan says, "Good. You?" You're also good. You tell Ryan to have a nice day, and you keep walking.

This happens every day--for weeks, and then months. You are on autopilot, asking the same question, giving the same answer, and having the same safe interaction again and again. And that's fine! There is nothing wrong with this interaction. It happens every day in English-speaking environments around the world. However, as time passes, you realize that you want to move beyond just asking "How are you?" You start feeling confident enough in your English and social skills to try something a little different.

This is a big moment...

Yes, of course there is life beyond "How are you?" If you're just beginning to learn English, it's fine to only use "How are you?" or "How are you doing?" For beginners, mastering fundamental questions and responses is essential to developing confidence, fluency, and proficiency. But once you become comfortable with the fundamentals, you will want to--and need to--expand your language skills.

That's what this page is about. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced learner of the English language, you will probably find something useful below.

Are you ready? Then let's step into life beyond "How are you?" Here is a list of common English greetings and responses.

Level 1: "How are you?" / "How are you doing?"

Casual speech for "How are you doing?": "How you doin'?"

These are the two most common ways to directly ask someone about their well-being. They are neutral questions. Of course, as in many languages, the person asking one of these questions is sometimes just being polite and adhering to social conventions. Maybe they do not care deeply about how the other person is doing, but they still want to greet them. Remember, when you greet someone, you are saying "I see you." For many people, this is enough. With that little bit of wisdom, here are some common responses to "How are you?" and "How are you doing?"

"I’m (doing) great. You?"

"Really good, actually." "I’m good, thanks."

"Good. You?" "Fine, thanks."

"I’m (doing) fine. How about you?" "I’m (doing) okay." "Pretty good. And you?" "Not (too) bad." "Can’t complain. You?" "Still here." "Surviving." "Not (so) good, actually."

Practice: How are you doing today?

Level 2: "How’s it going?" / "How are things?"

Casual variation for "How's it going?": "How goes?"

These two questions ask about the state of a person's life. The "it" in "How's it going?" can refer to a person's day, their present circumstances, or their life in general. The "thing" in "How are things?" refers to the same things. Here are some ways you can answer these questions. Notice that many of the responses are similar--but slightly different in some places--to "How are you?" and "How are you doing?" Take a look, and read the answers out loud.

"Really/Pretty well, actually." (for “How’s it going?”) "Really/Pretty good, actually." (for “How are things?”) "Good, thanks. How’s it going with you?"

"Okay, thanks. You?"

"Things are okay on my end. What about you?"

"Fine, thanks. What about you?" "It’s going." (meaning, not good, but not bad. Just neutral. Life is continuing on.) "Pretty good. How are things with you?" "Not bad. How about you?" "Can’t complain. How are things on your end?" (meaning, on your side, or in your life.)

Practice: How are things on your end these days?

Level 3: "How've you been?" / "How've you been doing?"

Casual speech for "How've you been?": "How ya been?"

This is a common question to ask a friend or colleague you have not seen in a long time. Anything they tell you will be new to you because you haven't spoken to them directly in a while. Maybe you have seen some of their social media posts or pictures, but now is your chance to find out how they have been feeling, and what they have been doing. In relaxed speech, "How've you been?" often sounds like "How ya been?" Most of the answers are similar to "How are you?" with a couple of exceptions.

"Good. You?" "Fine, thanks."

"I’ve been pretty good, actually. How about you?" "Okay. What about you?" "Pretty good. And you?" "Not (too) bad." "Can’t complain. You?" "You know. Just busy."

"Actually, I've been pretty busy lately." "Not (so) good, actually."

Practice: How've you been this week?

Level 4: "What’s new?" / "What have you been up to?"

Casual speech for "What have you been up to?": "What you been up to?"

Similar to "How've you been?", you can use one of these greetings with someone you have not seen or talked to in a long time. "What have you been up to?" means "What have you been doing with your time?" or "What have you been doing since the last time we saw each other?" Here are some responses you might hear to one of these questions.

"A (whole) heck of a lot, actually." (colloquial / casual / informal)

"Not a (whole) heck of a lot, actually." (colloquial / casual / informal) "Quite a bit, actually." "Not much. Anything new with you?" "(Absolutely) Nothing. You?"

"Nothing at all, actually. What about you?" "Well/Actually, I...(got a new job/bought a house/got a new car/etc.)."

Practice: What have you been up to lately?

Level 5: "What’s up?" / "What's going on?" / "What's happening?"

Casual speech for "What's up?": “Sup?” (SUHP?)

You have probably heard these in movies and series. These are some of the most informal greetings you can use in English. You can actually answer them by repeating the same question back to the person who asked it. A short casual greeting might sound like this: "Hey, Alex, what's up?" "What's up, Dan?" In this case, it's almost like saying "Hi." However, the meaning behind "What's up?", "What's going on?", and "What's happening?" is closer to "What's new?" The most popular response to these questions is "Not much" even if there is a lot happening, a lot going on, or a lot that is up. Here are some other responses you can use:

"A lot, actually. Do you have a minute?"

"Not a (whole) heck of a lot." (colloquial, meaning “not a lot.”) "Not much. What’s up with you?"

"Not much. What’s going on with you?"

"Not much. What's happening with you?" "Same old." / "Same old, same old." / "The same old thing." (meaning, nothing is new.) "You know. The usual." "(Absolutely) Nothing. You?" "Hey, what's up?"

"Hey, what's going on?"

"Hey, what's happening?"

Practice: "What's up?"

Level: Slang

Once you have mastered the greetings above, it's time for some higher level slang. You don't really have to use these if you don't want to, but it's never a bad idea to be aware of them, as you might hear them in films, TV shows, online videos, or spoken by people who are cooler than you or me. Have a look:

"How’s it hanging?" (similar to "How's it going?") "What’s good?" (similar to "What's up?")

"What’s cracking?" (similar to "What's up?")

"What's popping?" (similar to "What's up?")

"You good?" (meaning, are you okay?)

Practice: How's it hanging?


Greetings are important to know because they are the starting points of conversations. Of course, we must decide how honest of a response we want to give to these questions. A common response to any of these questions, if you want to test if the person asking them is really interested in your well-being, is "Do you really want to know?" Maybe you don't, but maybe it's a good idea that you do. Who knows? Maybe you will make a new friend, or maybe you will experience a moment of true human connection.

Thank you for reading this far. I hope you have found this resource useful, and that you will benefit from it in your personal life. Because that's always the goal: to use what you have learned. And I hope you will.

Until next time, thanks for reading, and good luck with your studies.

(If you enjoyed this post and want to support my work, consider buying one of my books in PDF or physical format. They are filled with practical English you will actually use. Take a look, and thank you for studying with me.)

1 Comment

Dec 14, 2022

The first lesson for English learners is greeting in English.

How are you? How are you doing? I am fine, thank you.

It is so easy, but it is not easy as you think; there are formal and informal greetings, and how to use them correctly? Knowing all common responses is a challenging task for learners.

Thank you for the article; I greatly appreciate it.

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