How are you?

The question “How are you?” in English is a very simple and commonly asked question, but it can be difficult for English learners. Why?

It’s usually not a question about your health or private situation. “How are you?” is usually a way of saying hello. For example: You might be sitting down at a table in a restaurant or standing in line at a shop. The waiter or cashier may say “How are you?” as a kind of greeting. It’s normal and polite to answer with “Fine, thank you. And you?”

If the person doesn’t make eye contact or doesn’t wait for an answer, then it’s okay not to give an answer at all.

In British English, the phrase “You all right?” is often used instead of “How are you?” But unless it is said in a serious tone, it is not really a question. The other person is simply saying hello.

It’s important to remember that “How are you?” is a kind of greeting, especially if you have never met the person before or do not know them well. The best and most polite answer is “I’m fine, thank you.”

If someone knows you well, asks “How are you?” with a serious tone and puts a stress on the word “are”, such as “How are you?”, then they are interested in a longer, more personal answer.

Mindy Ehrhart Krull
About the author

Originally from the US, Mindy Ehrhart Krull holds a master's degree in journalism and has been teaching English and working as an author, editor and proofreader in Germany since 2008.

At DELS, she leads a team of several English trainers and language professionals.

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