Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Why "Hi, How Are You?" Is Not a Real Question in English

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Tue, Sep 03, 2013 @ 07:55 AM

saying hi is it a real question in EnglishOk, so have you been in this situation before?

You step into the elevator in your apartment building and your neighbors (people who also live in your building) greet you with a smile and say "Hi how are you?" You respond by saying, "Well I'm fine, thanks. I had a nice lunch today and I am heading over to the park for the afternoon." and they look at you with a strange look on their faces and start walking away.

You made a huge mistake!

What is your mistake? Read the article to find out.

 

 

Why "Hi, how are you" is not actually a question

 

I would argue that "hi, how are you?" is not even a question in the United States. It is a greeting and you must recognize the difference.

Many people who are new in the US really think that the person wants to know the details of their life, but in many cases, that is not true.

It depends on your relationship to the person and the location of the interaction. Check out the following 3 scenarios.

 

 

Scenario #1: The person is a stranger


 cafeYou are in an elevator with a neighbor that you have never spoken with or you are being greeted by a server in a restaurant or a clerk in a store.

In these situations, they are really not looking for a detailed answer. They just want to say hello. Keep it short! Here are some things that you can say.

 

  • Q: "Hi, how are you?"
  • A: "Doing well, thanks and you?"

 

  • Q: "Hey how's it going?"
  • A: "Fine, thank you."

 

  • Q: "Hi, How's everything going today?"
  • A: "Great, thanks."

 

 

Scenario #2: The person is an acquaintance


acquaintancesAn acquaintance is somewhere between a stranger and a friend. This person might be a friend of a friend or they may be a neighbor that you have actually had a few conversations with. They might be a colleague.

For these exchanges they might ask you a little bit more about your life and you can add a little bit more detail.

 

  • Q: "Hi, how are things going at work?"
  • A: "Pretty well, thanks. We are working hard on a new project. How about you?"

 

  • Q: "Hey, how's your summer going?"
  • A: "It's going well. I had a chance to take a vacation last week. How is yours going?"

 

 

 

Scenario #3: The person is a friend


football

When the person is your friend and they ask about your life, they probably actually want to know how your life is going. So feel free to add some details.

 

  • Q: "Hey buddy how are things going at your new job?"
  • A: "Well things have been tough. There is so much to learn, but I am trying to catch on quickly. How is school going for you?"

 

  • Q: "Hey girl, what have you been up to lately?" (note- "Hey girl" is used a lot between women in their teens, twenties, and thirties who are good friends."
  • A: "Not much, staying busy and trying to get out as much as I can. What's going on in your life?"

 

 

So there you have it. The most important thing to remember is that not everyone wants to know the details of your life when they say "hi, how are you?"

Think about the depth of your connection with the person you are speaking with and remember that "how are you?" is not always a question- it's often just a greeting!

 

 

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Photo credits: erink_photography, Dinner Series  Wonderlane starrynight_012

Topics: English Lessons, United States Culture, Vocabulary Workshop

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