Maybe you have been through this situation before. Somebody asks you ‘How are you?’ and you do one of these: you don’t know exactly how to answer this in a unique way, so you just nod or end up saying something like ‘fine, thanks’. First thing you should know: there are other ways to say I’m fine.
Knowing different ways to say How are you in English according to the people you are talking to is essential for anyone learning English. There are more ways to start a conversation than by saying ‘Hi, how are you?’. Turns out that you don’t need to always use this phrase and sound repetitive. You have options! Keep reading to learn 9 ways to ask this question and possible answers to each of question so that you never feel unsure again.
Forming questions with ‘How’
You have probably heard about the WH-questions before. If you haven’t, be sure to check out this article on the PrepEng Blog to learn more about asking questions in English. Otherwise, here’s a quick summary for you.
In English, questions are structured around the question words. We have nine WH-question words: what, when, where, which, who, why, whom, whose, and how. Even though ‘how’ doesn’t start with ‘wh’, we consider it a WH-question word.
We will use ‘how’ to ask questions about manner, condition, or quality. You may have seen these combinations before: how far, how long, how old, how many, and how much.
The structure of a question using the question words is the following:
- Question word + auxiliary verb + subject + verb + complement
Examples with ‘How’:
- How do you go to work?
- … did you get here?
- … would you do this?
- Question word + verb to be + subject + complement (optional)
Examples with ‘How’:
- How is she today?
- … are they going to the beach?
- … are you?
More about ‘How are you’
The question ‘How are you?’ is made with the verb ‘to be’ (am/is/are). Since ‘you’ is the most common object of the sentence, that’s the most common question we use to ask somebody how they are feeling. However, if you decide to ask a friend how their mother is doing, after you heard she spent a few days in the hospital, for instance, you will ask:
- Hey, John. How is your mom? I heard she was in the hospital.
- Oh, she’s doing much better. Thanks for asking!
It is important to point out that even though we use ‘how are you’ to ask someone how they are feeling, it is common to say ‘I’m good, thanks’ or ‘I’m fine’ even though we are not. You may open up about your feelings with close friends and family, but in general whenever someone asks up that it doesn’t mean they are really interested in hearing about how you are not feeling so good that day. Keep that in mind!
Other ways to ask ‘how are you’
There are many other ways to start a conversation with your coworker, your boss, or an old friend you bumped into during a visit to the supermarket. Let’s take a look at them and also learn the best ways to answer those questions.
1 – How are you doing?
The structure of this question uses the present continuous tense of to be + present participle of do. If you are a Friends fan, you have heard this before. The character Joey Tribbiani, played by the actor Matt LeBlanc, is known by his catchphrase ‘How you doin’?’, which is an abbreviation of ‘How are you doing’.
Both are very informal, so you wouldn’t say this to your boss or people you have just met. Depending on the intonation, it can convey excitement to see a person after a long time or sympathy if a person has had a loss. Listen to the examples here.
You can answer it by saying ‘I’m good’ (although this is not grammatically correct, it’s common in American English usage), ‘I’m doing fine’, or ‘I am pretty good’.
2 – How is it going?
The structure of this question uses the present continuous tense of to be + present participle of go. Notice the subject changes from you to it. The ‘it’ means life in general. Keep in mind this question is also very informal, so you can use it among friends and family.
To answer this question, you can keep it short with ‘things are good’ or ‘it’s going well.’ However, if your friend or family member asks you this, they are probably genuinely interested in what is happening in your life. Take this opening in conversation to share.
3 – How’s everything? or How are things?
You will probably use any of these with people you know. You probably know a little about their life and you are truly curious to know how things are going. A good example of a situation where you may use this question is when bumping into a coworker. He or she may say something like ‘Things are great. Actually, I was promoted last week. I’m very excited to start working with Peter. Have you worked with him before?’
4 – How have you been?
This is another good one to use with somebody you know, especially if you haven’t seen them in a while. It is a good question to do some catching up — ‘to catch up’ is a phrasal verb (combination of a verb and a particle) people use to say to someone they haven’t talked for some time they need to update one another on their life events.
5 – What’s been going on?
Similar to ‘how have you been’, it is a good idea to use this one to ask someone you know better about their life. Unlike ‘how are you’, people are more likely to really open up when you ask this question, so they will probably say more than just ‘good, thanks’.
6 – What’s up?
Do you use the app ‘Whatsapp’? If so, let me tell you a fun fact. The founders of ‘Whatsapp’ named it to sound like the expression ‘What’s up’.
‘What’s up’ is an informal way to ask somebody how they are doing. Feel free to use it with friends and family members.
Since we are talking about family members, have you read our blog post about family? Click here to learn 45+ words to talk about your family in English.
7 – How are you holding up?
One can ask this when they bump into a person that has been going through difficult times. This is one of the different ways to ask how someone is feeling.
For instance, you’re at the mall and you see your friend Rachel. You know Rachel’s father has recently passed away, so when you guys meet you ask: “Hey Rachel. Good to see you! How are you holding up?”. She may answer: “Hey, good to see you too. Oh, you know, things could be better. But I am staying strong.”
8 – How’s life?
This is a very general question you can ask someone. They may answer with a short answer, such as “Things are good. How about you?”, or they can talk a little longer and update you on their lives.
9 – What’s new?
This is another way of asking somebody for an update. One can answer “Not much. Same old, same old” or something along these lines. They can also share with you some exciting news, if that’s the case.
Possible answers to ‘how are you’ questions
Check this list of possible answers to the questions we went over just now. Remember that you can be more formal or more informal according to the person you are talking to. Let’s take a look at some different ways to say I am fine.
- I’m great
- … good
- … pretty good
- … ok
- … not bad
- … doing great
- …. doing good
- I couldn’t be better
- I can’t complain
- I’ve been better
- I’ve had better days
You can also add “thanks” at the end of your answer, as well as saying “thanks for asking”. It is also very common to ask “and you?”, “what about you?, “what about yourself?” after you answer.
We hope this list of questions and answers will help you make small talk. Next time someone asks you “how are you” in English you will be able to answer properly, instead of just nodding or going with the classic ‘I’m fine, thanks’. Happy studying!