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6 Ways To Ask “How Are You?” and 18 Ways to Answer

Want to avoid awkward conversations with native English speakers?

Then it’s time to make sure you know how to react when someone asks “How are you?”

Sounds easy, right? Don’t you just tell people how you feel?

Not always.

Keep on reading to see all the possible answers and reactions to “How are you?”—things you never learned in ESL class or during your self-study.


Variations of “How Are You?”  

How’s it going?

What’s up?

How’ve you been? ( How have you been? )

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What have you been up to?

What’s going on?

How are you doing?

Until you become familiar with these questions, you’ll have to pay attention to which question was used. Why?

Well, if someone asks you “What’s up?” it doesn’t make sense to answer “Good.” The common answer is “Not much,” followed by a return “What’s up with you?” .

Note: “What have you been up to?” and “What’s going on?” can be answered in the same way.

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You might replace the “What’s up with you?” with “What’s going on with you?” if you want to match the original question.

The difference between “How are you?” and “How are you doing?”

These phrases are very similar, but “how are you?” is slightly more formal, and may be used more commonly when someone is specifically asking about your health or wellbeing

For the most part though, they are basically interchangeable. 

They also have slightly different grammar, which will affect how you reply. 

If someone asks “How are you doing?,” grammatically you should also answer “well.”

This says “I’m doing well.”

Since “doing” is an action verb, we need to use the adverb “well” to describe that action.

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But most native speakers will still answer with the single word “Good.”

You’ll hear it regularly in speech, and people actually might think it sounds funny/wrong to say “Well.”

So, it’s perfectly acceptable to respond to “How are you doing?” with “Good!”

Even so, if someone asks “How are you doing?” then it’s grammatically correct to say “Well.”

Formal Answers to “How Are You?” for Acquaintances and Strangers 

Your answer to the question “How are you?” depends on who asked you the question. First, we’ll look at what to say when people you don’t know or people you don’t know very well ask how you are.

Let’s look at some formal (more polite) answers to “How are you?”

You will use these answers when you’re talking to acquaintances and strangers . Of course, you can use these with anyone you speak to, even family and close friends.

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Acquaintances are people that you know, but don’t know very well. This could be someone you’ve met just once or twice, perhaps a friend of a friend, an old classmate that you were never really friends with or a man who works at the local grocery store.

When you see an acquaintance somewhere, it’s polite to greet them. If you both know each other but don’t say anything to the other person, it’s somewhat rude (bad manners).

You will often encounter acquaintances in your everyday life, but also in your professional life at work. In these situations, it is essential that you know how to talk to these acquaintances at work properly.

People that you don’t know or have never met before are called strangers. A stranger could be the cashier (the person working at the check-out counter) of a supermarket, the receptionist at an office or someone sitting next to you on the bus.

So, when one of these people (an acquaintance or a stranger) asks how you are, how should you respond?

It’s important to note: This person doesn’t want to know how you actually are that day. They’re just being polite.

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In the United States, “Hi, how are you?” is almost a cultural greeting—it’s how we say hello. If you say this to an acquaintance or stranger, you probably aren’t really interested in their true answer.

Also, the person you’re greeting won’t answer honestly, because that’s just how it is in this society.

So, in these situations, it’s best to give a short answer. You usually won’t share how you really feel.

Here are some common answers and what they mean:


As an ESL teacher, this is the answer I hear most often from non-native speakers.

Be careful, though! “Fine” often means that you’re not completely all right—something could be wrong.

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The tone you use when you say this word makes a difference. A shorter, higher-pitched “I’m fine” with a smile will mean you actually are okay. 

If you sigh, say it slowly and use a lower tone of voice, “I’m fine” could mean the opposite—you aren’t fine at all.

Let’s look at an example of how “fine” has a somewhat negative meaning, in a different situation:

Stephen: Oh, sorry. I ordered the wrong color… you wanted red!

Kate: It’s fine. We’ll just use blue. There’s no time to order red now.

As you can see, Kate said, “It’s fine,” when it really wasn’t fine at all. Stephen ordered the wrong color! But the word “fine” is often used to mean “good enough.” It’s not great, but it will work.

The same thing happens a lot when asking how you are. If someone is “fine,” often they’re not great, but they’re good enough.

Try this: next time you’re watching an American sitcom in English, listen for the word “fine” and think about if it’s used in a positive, neutral or negative way.

Not bad

This answer can sound either more neutral or slightly positive, depending on your tone. If you’re “not bad,” it means that things are okay.

All right

Responding that you’re “all right” is neutral, but usually more positive than “fine.” And just like the first two answers we’ve seen here, your intonation (pitch of voice, high or low) can change the meaning slightly (a little).

“I’m all right” has a positive vibe (energy) if each word is higher in tone than the previous word. When said this way, each word is held a bit longer than the previous word, too. Overall, the phrase is spoken a bit slowly.

To make a more neutral-sounding answer, “I’m” is the highest pitched word, “all” drops in tone and “right” goes up a step, but is lower than “I’m.”

The words are spoken more quickly than in the previous example.

Ask a native speaker to say this phrase, or listen for it in context while watching American movies.


The most common answer that I hear and say is “Good.” It’s a positive, polite and common response.

You might not actually be feeling too good when you answer “Good,” but for an acquaintance or stranger it’s a normal answer to give.

Saying “Good” is grammatically correct if you mean that you’re happy and pleasant!

Native speakers often confuse the word “good” with “well.” Let’s state each word’s usage more clearly.

Good is an adjective, which means it describes a noun (person, place, thing).

For example:

My son is a good boy.

I want to read a good book.

I know a good restaurant.

You did a good job.

In response to “How are you?” the response “good” is an adjective describing myself. I am good. It’s a correct response, grammatically.

(Note: The verb “are” comes from the infinitive “to be,” which is a linking verb. This isn’t an action verb, which is part of the reason why people get confused.)


“Well,” on the other hand, is an adverb. That means it describes a verb—an action. It describes how you do something.

For example:

You did well on the exam.

He plays sports well.

My voice teacher said I sing well.

“Well” can also be used as an adjective, but only when you’re specifically talking about health. “Well” means “healthy” when it’s used in this way.

Here’s an example:

Stephen: I heard you had the flu, how are you?

Kate: I’m well.

Responding and continuing the conversation

After you say your quick answer, it’s polite to add a “thanks” afterwards. After that, you can ask the other person “How are you?”

You don’t have to say “thanks” first, but it’s always nice. It’s most polite to ask the person how they are in return.

Here are some full responses to “How are you?”:

Good, thanks. And you?

Not bad. How are you?

I’m good. And you?

I’m fine, thanks. How about you?

Now you’re ready to go out in the English-speaking world and greet others. But what about when you’re talking with good friends or family?

Informal Answers to “How Are You?”

When we’re talking with close friends or family members, we’ll answer the question differently.

It’s time to be honest.

When talking with your friends, parents or siblings (brothers and sisters), it’s okay to tell them how you really feel.

Maybe you’ll answer “I’m fine” with a sigh at first, and then your friend will ask you “What’s wrong?” Then you can tell him or her exactly what’s bothering you.

Here are some more replies you might use to describe how you’re really feeling:


Here’s another quick, neutral answer like “fine” or “all right.” Depending on your tone when you use this response, your friend might ask “Just okay?” as a follow-up.

This means they think something is wrong and want to know what’s going on in your life.


We’ve seen lots of neutral and negative responses, but hopefully there are many times when you feel excellent!

When you’re better than good, say you’re great.


Here’s another very positive response. If you’re looking forward to something—like a concert next week, spending time with a good friend or getting a puppy—say you’re excited!

Then you can tell your friend or relative why you’re excited.

I can’t complain / Can’t complain

If things aren’t going amazingly well, but you’re grateful for the good things you have in your life, you can use this response. 

Same old

This means everything is normal, neither positive nor negative. You’ve just been doing your “same old” routine lately. 

Oh, you know

This is to use with the people who know you so well, they already know what’s going on in your life.

This can be paired with “same old” like this:

“How are you doing?”

“Oh, you know… same old”

I’ve been better

When there is something wrong, you can use “I’ve been better” as your first response.

This will lead your friend or relative to ask you “What’s wrong?” or something similar.

Could be worse

Maybe things aren’t going well lately, but you have some things to be thankful for.

This expresses some gratitude that things aren’t going as badly as they could.


When you’re annoyed, or something keeps going wrong, you could be frustrated (annoyed).

You may be frustrated when you can’t get your computer to print or when your co-worker makes the same mistake over and over.


If you have no free time because you have lots of things to do, say you’re busy!

Stressed out

When you’re busy, it’s possible that you could also be stressed out.

Feeling stress (pressure) is a negative feeling that can happen when you have too much to do (often things you don’t want to do) and not enough time.


Use this response when you’re concerned about a problem. When you’re worried, you think the result of a situation could be bad but you don’t know how to make it okay, or you don’t have control of the situation so instead you think about it a lot.

For example, someone who just lost their job will probably worry about money and finding a new job.


When you’re really tired. Maybe you didn’t sleep well or you worked all day. If you don’t have any energy, use this word.

How to Practice Responding to “How Are You?”

I bet you never thought that “How are you?” could be so complex. But don’t get stressed out!

Remember that there are two main situations with this greeting: talking to people you know and people you don’t know. The closer you are to someone, the more specific you can be about how you are feeling.

With some practice and seeing real-life examples, you will soon be comfortable with the “How are you?” greeting.

Because it’s so common in the English-speaking world, watching movies and TV shows can be a great way to learn all the nuances of the phrase.

If you don’t feel ready for material at such an advanced level, you can start with shorter clips.

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Then, it’ll be time to take your knowledge to the streets! Say “hello” to as many people as you can and see how they answer your “How are you?”

Once you’ve mastered this question, you might be so happy that you answer “perfect” to the next person who asks how you are!

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:


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