‘How are you’ and its variants such as ‘how are you doing’ (variants too are covered in the post) are so commonplace. You hear them multiple times daily.

How to respond to them?

But before that, let’s first understand a person’s intent behind this question.

What’s the intent behind ‘How are you’?

‘How are you’ is a way to greet. It’s not an enquiry into your state of affairs.

When someone pops ‘how are you’, they don’t want to know what’s going on in your life. The good. The bad.

None of that.

This expression is a plain-vanilla greeting, which requires an equally plain-vanilla, though quick, response such as ‘good’ or ‘fine’.

So next time someone shoots ‘how are you’ at you, don’t launch into your tale of woes or the big prize you won last week. The other person doesn’t want any of that.

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How to respond to ‘How Are You’ And ‘What’s Up’?

You can respond in multiple ways:

1. ‘Great’

X: How are you?

Y: Great. How are you?

Or

Y: Great. And you?

Or

Y: Great. How about you?

However, if you’re in a formal setting, you may add ‘thank you’ to your response.

Y: Great. Thank you. How are you?

2. ‘Good’

X: How are you?

Y: Good. How are you?

Or

Y: Good. And you?

Or

Y: Good. How about you?

People also say ‘I’m good’ instead of ‘Good’.

‘Great’ and ‘Good’, both, are positive responses and show that you’re in good spirits.

However, people often say these expressions just for the sake of it – completing the greeting loop. They may have recently lost job or suffered other catastrophic setback, but they would still say ‘great’ or ‘good’ and quickly pass by. Only in few cases, they’ll speak the truth (covered in point # 4). So learn to take these phrases with a pinch (or sackload!) of salt.

3. ‘Fine’

When you say ‘I’m fine’ or ‘Fine’, you don’t sound positive. You mean things are OK, and you don’t want to discuss any further.

However, keep in mind that the tone and facial expression while responding say a lot about how things are at your end. If you respond energetically, ‘fine’ would mean things are, well, fine. A drooping voice though would indicate otherwise.

4. ‘Not so good’

‘Not so good’ is not positive. Loud and clear.

You’ll typically respond with this expression to people with whom you’re comfortable sharing not-so-good experiences, because you’re expected to share why you aren’t so good.

X: How are you?

Y: Not so good.

X: Why? What happened?

Y: Stressed out at work big time. More work than I can handle and a bad boss to deal with.

People often narrate the reasons for being ‘not so good’ in their first response itself without being asked by the other person.

Variants of ‘how are you’

You won’t always hear ‘how are you’ though. Some of its variants are:

Good morning! How are you today?

How are you doing today?

How is it going?

You can respond to these expressions in the way you respond to ‘how are you’.

‘What’s up’ is not the same as ‘how are you’

Although ‘what’s up’ is used interchangeably with ‘how are you’, it’s not the same. When people say ‘what’s up’, they mean what’s going on.

‘Great’ or ‘good’ is not the appropriate answer to ‘what’s going on’ (they’re appropriate for ‘how…’)

A better answer is:

X: Hey, what’s up?

Y: Nothing much. I’m just preparing my shopping list.

‘Nothing much’ means there isn’t anything exciting going on at the moment. After saying this expression, Y then mentions something mundane – preparing shopping list. In case, Y wasn’t doing even that, s/he could’ve finished at just ‘nothing much’.

If you’re doing something that you regularly do, you can also say:

X: Hey, what’s up?

Y: Just the same old thing.

And if you want you can go on to add what regular work you’re doing at the moment. Note that ‘nothing much’ is a generic expression – it’ll go with regular or non-regular things – and therefore will fit in here as well.

However, if you’re busy with something new or different, you can state what you’re doing:

X: Hey, what’s up?

Y: Busy with a new project these days.

You can also ask the other person as to what’s going on in their lives, but you don’t do that by repeating ‘what’s up’. Here is a way:

Y: Nothing much. I’m just preparing my shopping list. You tell me?

‘You tell me’ does the job.