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Possible answers to "How are you?"
Thread poster: Momoka
Momoka  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:52
Japanese to Spanish
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May 10, 2005

I'm currently teaching ESL to beginners, and one of my new students is never at ease when asked "How are you?". I've taught her the traditional replies (Fine, Good, Very well, not bad, etc), but I guess she needs more -short- options, since it's too soon for her to start talking about herself and what has happened that made her feel this or that way, etc. Anyway, I'd like to hear more possible answers (conventional and not that conventional) to this everyday greeting. Any help?

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Cristina Mazzucchelli  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
Member (2008)
English to Italian
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ok May 10, 2005

Momoka wrote:

I'm currently teaching ESL to beginners, and one of my new students is never at ease when asked "How are you?". I've taught her the traditional replies (Fine, Good, Very well, not bad, etc), but I guess she needs more -short- options, since it's too soon for her to start talking about herself and what has happened that made her feel this or that way, etc. Anyway, I'd like to hear more possible answers (conventional and not that conventional) to this everyday greeting. Any help?

Why not just say: "I'm ok" ?

Hope to have answered your question!


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English to Italian
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How are you? May 10, 2005

I was interested to know where you are teaching? Could it be not that the person is not comfortable with the options you have given her, but is instead hampered by her own cultural norms which don't encourage her to speak about herself?

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Clare Barnes  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
Swedish to English
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Turn it around... May 10, 2005

It's quite common for English speakers to turn it around:

A: "How are you?"
B: "Fine, thanks. How about you?"

That detracts the attention from her and puts the ball back in the other player's court, so to speak. This might also be a cultural problem - I don't think when I ask somone how they are that I expect to hear how they really are, it's just a formal exchange to start a conversation off.

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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:52
French to English
no-one *really* wants to know how you are! May 10, 2005

I see your point, but IMO "how are you?" is just oil to the gears of human interaction - no-one really wants to actually be informed of the other person's state of health or mind Hence the standard replies provide very little or no information - fine, OK, can't complain, mustn't grumble, been worse, etc.

If I ask someone "how are you?", this is NOT a cue for them to start telling me about their piles or insomnia or pressure at work. If I want to know that, I'll ask a more specific question - how are you feeling? How's work? Or possibly if I'm feeling observant and caring - you don't look well, is eveything ok?

(NB: this is a southern UK viewpoint - I appreciate that in oter countries/cultures, the question CAN be taken as a genuine query as to the other person's state.)

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Local time: 03:52
Italian to Dutch
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"How are you" should not be mistaken for a "real" question! May 10, 2005

You might want to have a look at "Meeting people"

Friends often say "Hi" to each other. Then they often ask a general question, such as "How are you?" or "How are things?" or "How's life?" The reply to this question is normally positive.

"Fine thanks, and you?"
"Fine thanks, what about yourself?"
"Not bad." Or "Can't complain."


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Local time: 02:52
Spanish to English
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Informal greetings May 10, 2005

I am assuming that your student is a young person (teens, twenties) and that the setting is informal.

It is very common for speakers in this age group to use informal greetings, for example:

A: Hey, how are you?
B: I'm good, and you?

This can even be shortened to:
B: Good, you?

B: I'm OK, and you?
B: Cool. You? (But it's probably better for your student to avoid using slang until she feels more confident.)

Greetings like these are often used in preference to the more traditional ones like:
B: Very well thank you, and you?
B: Fine thanks. And you?

However, Clare's comment about turning the greeting round to the other person (reciprocating) is absolutely correct. It is still considered polite to enquire after the other person's health, even in informal greetings.

Finally, your student should understand that these greetings are formalities which serve to start the conversation off, rather than a true enquiry about the person's health. She should avoid answers like:

B: Well, actually, I've got a splitting headache and I think I'm coming down with flu...

Hope that helps!

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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:52
German to English
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Typical answers (in the USA) May 10, 2005

Not bad.

I'm doing well.




I can't complain.

I'm fine, thank you.

Doing fine, thank you. And you?

Couldn't be better.

Lovin' life.

Life's great.


Been better.

Just fine, thanks.

It's Monday.

It's Friday!

I'm doing great!

I'm doing lousy - I'm up to my eyeballs in work.


Hangin' in there.

Also see:

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United States
Local time: 20:52
English to Russian
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Possible suggestion May 10, 2005

Your student seems to be quite shy and concerned about proper manners. Probably she should use superlative, more for her own extra comfort to be 150% positive that noone would start worrying about her well-being right on the spot (fat chance:-) but if this is how the person feels, I would propose this way out to respect her feelings.

Super!; Great!; "Terrific! Yourself?"

I'm not a native but I feel that those replies would help a shy foreigner to cut the conversation as soon as possible and not in any rude way at all, they rather would insure a brief cheering exchange, simple greeting and a perfect freedom to continue about your own business.

Sounds overcomplicated In real life in the Stated there is no need to worry whatsoever after giving any of the proposed replies but, if I may say so, for someone brought up in a different culture with a very detailed attention to certain behavior nuances this might be important.

With the "yourself" part she should also learn that she is not obligated to stay and listen to oneself's life story:-). Can be omitted for now.

[Edited at 2005-05-10 10:04]

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Momoka  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:52
Japanese to Spanish
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I really appreciate it...and expect more! May 10, 2005

Thank you all! I'm seeing this student tomorrow, and when I do I'll have a lot of possible answers for her, which I think will make her feel more comfortable about her English learning.
As some of you say, I guess it is a cultural problem. Fatagina, my student is Japanese. I wouldn't say in Japan they expect too much detail when asking someone "How are you?" either, but I can tell you many of my students try to be too good or too correct when trying to speak the language they are we come back to the cultural factor...I guess.
Anyway, I think giving her more options will make her feel better and, for sure, I must point out what some of you have mentioned, that it's just a greeting and no one is expecting too much detail from you.
Any other answers and coments are welcome. And thank you for helping me teach better!

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nruddy  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:52
German to English
"Grand" May 10, 2005 what we say in Ireland, so people generally say

"Grand, and yourself?"

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Local time: 18:52
English to French
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Cultural issue? hmmm... May 10, 2005


I can assure you that the Japanese use that phrase pretty much the way we do, as an extension to "Hi". They answer automatically that they're fine, as a conversation starter too, like Charlie pointed out.

Your student's quandary has to be something else: is she self-conscious about her pronounciation, is she too shy to speak in public, or...?



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Can Altinbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:52
Japanese to English
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Unease May 11, 2005

Years ago, I did some ESL teaching in Japan. It was my experience that many people there are uncomfortable with the situation. It may be fear of being wrong. It would seem that people would have figured out some good ways to get the students past that.
Momoko san, you might also pose your question in the Japanese forum and see what they have to say there.
Good luck.

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Momoka  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:52
Japanese to Spanish
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Thank you May 11, 2005

Thanks for the new comments; I've already met my student and given her all the options I got from all of you...explaining of course that the question doesn't have to be taken too serious.
And thanks for your suggestion, Can. It will be of help knowing how other Japanese people feel about these subjects.
Best regards!

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Elizabeth Sumner
Local time: 02:52
Russian to English
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Modern Manners - answers to how're you? May 11, 2005

There's quite a good section in The Times called Modern Manners that answers fiddly etiquette questions. It's rather good and is available for free online at Your question came up recently so I've copied it below:

Is it acceptable in the UK to ask people "how are you?" when meeting them? It is common in the US but I get the impression that Britons don't like this degree of familiarity. I'm going to the UK next month and don't want to do anything "Charlie" (to use your term). Dwayne Williams, Chicago

"How are you" is a polite conventional greeting. It does not require (or welcome) as an answer a detailed description of your medical condition. Americans are generally better at such meetings than the English. As far as one can generalise about national characteristics (a foolish act), you are extrovert and at ease in your skins. You announce your names audibly and proudly. When meeting a stranger, the nerves of the average Englishman are jangling in calculations of class, caste and character. He mutters his name sheepishly. It is polite to take the lead from whomever you are meeting, especially if she is female.

In sections of South-East England these days it is considered unfriendly to address anybody as Mr Surname, and not to kiss any woman twice or even thrice on alternate cheeks, while making the Charlie onomatopoeic suburban sound of Mwaaagh, Mwaaagh. In other parts and classes of the UK it would be a faux pas to kiss a reluctant female, or to address a gent by his first name without invitation to do so. For some generations (military old buffers, and others who consider themselves middle-to-upper class) the most intimate address is to call another gent by his surname tout court, "Howard". It is perfectly acceptable to greet a stranger or friend with the incantation "How are you?", provided that the question is asked as an exclamation cheerfully, openly, and without sounding as though you expect an answer.
- Philip Howard, The Times

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