A good conversation in English (or any language) requires some back and forth. To speak English fluently, we need to know different ways to say things, but we also need to know how to respond or react. Conversation is like tennis. You need to know how to hit the ball back to keep the game going! Today let’s focus on the beginning of a conversation: the different ways we say “hello” in English and how to respond.
The Basic “Hello”
There are so many ways to say “hello” in English. We often start an English conversation with a simple “hello.” You may see someone you know, make eye contact with a stranger, or start a phone conversation with this simple greeting. You may be asking yourself: “What should I say instead of “hello?” Here are some different ways to say the basic “hello.”
|Hello.||This is a classic way to greet someone.|
|Hi.||It is the shortest way to say hello.|
|Hey!||This is another short and casual hello, usually used with someone you know.|
|Another informal hello, “Hi there!” can be used with someone you know well, like a friend, neighbor or co-worker.|
|Use slang for a casual hello with close friends and acquaintances, but be careful, not everyone wants to be called “bro” or “girl!”|
|Howdy!||People in the South use this as an informal way to say hello.|
|Hey y’all!||In the South people use “y’all” to refer to a group of people. It is short for “you all.”|
So what do you say to someone who has just said “hello” to you? Of course you can respond back with “Hello” or “Hi,” but does that move the conversation forward? No it does not! We want to hit that tennis ball across the net. Answer a simple “hello” with a question. “How are you?” is a popular way to respond and keep the conversation going. You may want to add a simple “hello” to your response just to acknowledge the person, like “Hi there! How are you?” or “Hey man. What’s up?” In the next section we will cover different ways to say “How are you?” and the typical responses.
What do people really mean when they ask “How are you?”
When people start off an English conversation with “How are you?” they usually don’t expect you to go into much detail. Think of the “How are you?” question as a simple way to get the conversation going. This is what we call “exchanging pleasantries.” We are just warming up with some easy questions and answers. If your conversation partner signals wanting to continue the discussion, answer in more detail later. The only exception to this rule is if you know your conversation partner really well. They may signal to you that they want more details when they emphasize the word “are” in the question. “How ARE you?” They mean, “How are you REALLY doing?” Here are some different ways to say “How are you?”
|How are you?||This is the most popular way to ask this question.|
|How are ya?||We use “ya” instead of “you” to make it less formal.|
|How are things?
How are things going?
How’s it going?
What’s going on?
|Sometimes we ask the question “How are you?” indirectly. We do this to be informal. We are signalling comfort with our conversation partner. We are also inviting him or her to answer the question in any way they’d like.|
|How have you been?||This is just another way to ask “How are you?” but more focused on the (recent) past.|
How’s everyone doing?
|When we ask about “everyone” we are asking about our conversation partner’s family or friends. It shows your partner that you care about their people.|
|“What’s up?” and all its variants are slang for “How are you?” Use this mostly with friends.|
|What’s happening?||This is another slang version of “How are you?” When someone asks you this don’t tell them literally what is happening in the moment!|
|What are you up to these days?
|This version of “How are you?” is more specific and typically asked by an old friend. If you are asked this, it’s ok to talk about your job and more recent events in your life.|
|English speakers love slang! Again, when we use slang we are signalling comfort with our conversation partner. This is a very casual way to ask “How are you?”|
|How are you holding up?||This is a way to say “How are you?” when we know someone has gone through a hard time.|
|We don’t have to expect greatness every time! Sometimes we just want to know if things are normal.|
What’s the best way to respond to a “How are you?” question? If we are at the beginning of a conversation and still “exchanging pleasantries,” we want to answer quickly and move the conversation forward!
More often than not, our goal is to let the other person know that we are fine and that we appreciate their interest. We can say, “I’m doing fine!” “Everyone is good.” or “Things are going great!” We don’t always have to say “Everything is awesome!” We can just say “Things are OK.” However, be careful expressing negative thoughts. If you say “Things are not good.” or “I’m not doing well.” your conversation partner may ask you to explain (as a courtesy to you), so be prepared to let them know your problems!
To show them we appreciate their interest, we can thank them. If someone asks you “How are you holding up?” You could say “I’m holding up fine. Thanks for asking.” If they ask “How are you doing?” you can say “I’m good. Thanks!” Another way to show appreciation is to return the favor – ask them how they are doing! If they ask “What’s up?” We can say, “Not much. How about you?” If they ask “Everything OK?” We can say “Yes everything is OK. And you?”
Want to be polite? Be a mirror.
In some situations it’s good to just repeat the same greeting back to your conversation partner. In a more formal setting, it shows that you are listening, and that you agree with what them. When you are meeting someone for the first time, it is considered polite to engage in this way. What are some greetings people use that can be repeated back to them? See below:
|Nice to see you!
It’s nice to see you again!
Good to see you!
|This greeting is used very often when you see a friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while.|
|Pleased to meet you.
Nice to meet you.
|This is a formal way to greet someone you’ve never met.|
|It’s been a while!
Long time no see!
|People love to remark about how long it’s been since they’ve seen somebody. It’s a way to say “I miss you.” without saying it.|
|It is customary to use these greetings at certain times of the day.|
So if someone says “It’s nice to see you!” Feel free to respond with “It’s nice to see you too!” If they say “It’s been a while!” respond with “Yes, it has been a while.” Of course, if you simply mirror someone you are signalling to your conversation partner that it is their turn to continue the conversation… but, you can also ask them a question back if you want to have a more detailed talk. Try adding “What’s new with you?” or “What else is new?” and you might have the start of a full-blown conversation!
Good conversations in English start with knowing how to say “hello” and how to respond, but it takes practice to move past the greeting. Are you having trouble making conversation in English? Try Lingoloop online English classes. Practice real conversations with our expert tutors. They will show you your mistakes and build your confidence quickly. Sign up for a FREE trial class today and we’ll show you how to get past “Hello!”