How to respond to casual English greetings like “what’s up?”

 In Grammar help, Quick tips

High 5 on the beach

When you’re studying English, “How are you?” is one of the first English phrases you learn to ask and answer… but native English speakers don’t always use this basic phrase in casual conversation. How many of the following phrases have you heard?

How’s it going? (most common in British English)
How’re you going? (Australian English)
How’s it hanging?
How’s life?
How’re tricks?
What’s happening?
What’s going down?
What’s the craic? (Irish English)
What’s up? (more common in American English)
What’re you up to?

In a more formal situation, “how are you” is generally used, but as you can see there are many more phrases used in casual conversation. Some are more common in North America, others are more common in British & Irish English, and others are more common in Australia & New Zealand. The purpose of all of these phrases is the same – to ask how someone is. But the way we answer them depends on the question phrase. For example:

Q: “What’s up?”
A: “Good!”

Sounds really strange!

So, how can you answer naturally – especially if someone uses a question phrase that you haven’t heard before? The key to this is to catch the first word – if the first word is “how”, you can answer with an adjective. For example:

Q: “How’s it going?”
A: “Not bad”

Q: “How’re you going?”
A: “Good thanks”

Q: “How’s life?”
A: “Great, thanks mate!”

But if the first word is “what”, we don’t answer with a simple adjective; we need to form a short sentence about what we are doing. For example:

Q: “What’s up?”
A: “Not a lot”

Q: “What’s up?”
A: “Not much, just chilling out”

Q: “What’s happening?”
A: “Nothing special, just watching the game”

As you can see, it’s usually a short sentence with very little information about what we are actually doing – this is because the person asking doesn’t really want to know exactly what we are doing! But if we’re doing something interesting, we can say what it is and sometimes it can lead to a longer conversation. For example:

“What’s happening?”
“Nothing special, just watching the game”
“Oh, I forgot about that, who’s winning?”
“No-one, it’s a really boring game!”
“Oh, really? Did you see the game last night? It was awesome!”
“Yeah, the second goal was amazing…” and so on

Hopefully this will help you to answer “how are you?” questions naturally. Also, this is something you can try using when you ask “how are you” questions – instead of asking people “how are you?”, try asking them “what’s up?” or “what’re you up to?” and if they reply with something interesting, you can ask a follow-up question and start a natural conversation about it.

Go out and try it, and let us know how you get on! And of course, if you have any questions our friendly teachers are here to help.

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