English Basics: How to answer “How are you?” correctly

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How to answer “How are you?” correctly

Has this ever happened to you? Someone says “Hey, how are you?” and then you start talking about your life.

“Oh, today is horrible. I have so much to do, and my son is sick, and I saw the price of gas is going up again, and…..”

Clearly, telling your life story is NOT the correct response to “How are you?” And today, you’ll learn different ways to respond to “How are you?”

In the US, you’ll hear “Hi, how are you?” or “How are you doing today?” or if you’re in the south “Hey, how y’all doin?”

You’ll hear this ALL the time! The server at the restaurant, the cashier at the store, your colleague you pass on your way to your desk. Everybody asks “How you doing today?”

And if you’ve noticed, nobody really answers. I mean a real true answer.

There’s really only one correct answer to “How are you?”

Do you know what it is?


The correct response is “Fine, and you?” That’s it. Fine and you.

Or some variation, like “Good, how about yourself?”
Or “Doing fine, and you?”
Or “Good, how about you?”

A quick & positive answer

Basically the idea is to just give a quick, positive answer. Even if your dog just died, your car died on the way to the store, and your iPhone battery just died.

If the cashier at the store asks “How you doing?” as you pay for your things, you should respond “Good, how about you?” or “Doing fine, and you?” or “Good, how about yourself?”

And they’ll respond with… yep, you guessed it: “Good, thanks.”
Or “Fine thanks.”
Or some other positive response that doesn’t really answer your question.

Why bother with “How are you?”?

So why ask a question if you don’t want a real answer? I can read in your thoughts… “Because Americans are soooo superficial!”.

No, it’s not because Americans are superficial (though some are, I’ll admit, yes…)

But…. You know the song “It’s a Wonderful World”, by Louis Armstrong. Romain, you know that song right?

There’s a line where he says “I see friends shaking hands, saying “How do you do?” They’re really saying “I love you.”

“How are you?” is the way Americans say “Hello!”

This little conversation “Hey, How are you? Fine, how about you? Good, thanks” is just Americans’ way of being friendly and polite with the people we interact with.

It’s especially the case in service transactions, like with a server at a restaurant, the cashier at a shop, a receptionist, etc.

I know it can be hard to not give a real response. Maybe it feels a bit fake, a bit superficiel. But nope.

That’s just what’s “normal” for this type of conversation. A real response, especially with lots of bad things, that’s uncomfortable.

You should just smile and say “Good, thanks, and you?”

To be truly fluent in English, you need to master these “little conversations” and everyday expressions. Personally, I like this app for learning English, and definitely recommend it!

Watch how to answer “How are you?”  in this week’s episode of Speak English with Christina TV:

Now, what about you?

How do you usually respond to “How are you?”
Have you ever made the mistake and told the person all about your day?

Share your stories in the comments below, because I’m sure they’re funny! And there’s no shame, because everyone makes mistakes in a different culture, especially me.

All the best to you,

P.S. There are lots of other Speak English with Christina episodes to help you learn irregular verbs, phrasal verbs, and past simple vs. present perfect simple. They’re just below!

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