Almost daily, were asked, How are you? The questionand its popular variation, How are you doing?appears in emails from strangers and acquaintances and in polite face-to-face conversation. But what do we really know about this ubiquitous phrase?
Whats the difference between How are you and How are you doing?
The phrases sound similar, but in certain contexts, they may have subtly different meanings.
How are you? makes a slightly more personal inquiry about someones health or mood. It focuses on the persons condition. Its also a bit more formal than How are you doing?
How are you doing? is a general inquiry. It can ask about whats going on in someones environment (similar to questions like, Hows your day been so far?) or in some contexts can mean How are you faring? or Do you need anything? (Think of a server approaching your table at a restaurant and asking, How are we doing here?) Its considered a bit more casual and conversational than How are you?Writing an important email?Grammarly will make sure it looks great before you hit send.Write with Grammarly
In an audible conversation, the perceived differences between the two phrases can vary regionally. Take this example from a forum discussion on the topic:
In my experience as a native speaker in the Middle Atlantic region . . . How are you? is a bland greeting for someone you havent seen for a while, while How are you doing? . . . may be an actual inquiry. The latter is more common when there is some expectation that the subject might not be doing well.
For example: Hey, havent seen you in ages! How are you? versus . . . How are you doing: is the new baby still keeping you up all night?cricketswool on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange
When spoken, both phrases convey unique meanings depending on which word is accented. How are you? might come across as a one-size-fits-all greeting, but How are you? would have a more personal or sincere tone, or even one of concern. A rather flat How are you doing? can become outright flirtatious when spoken, How are you doing? (especially if you drop the are and affect your best Joey Tribianni accent.)
Which is more professional: How are you? or How are you doing?
When you write an email or other text greetings, the stakes change a bit. Which phrase sounds more professional?
Both phrases are appropriate for work correspondence, but stick to How are you? in more formal settings. Its also better to use How are you? when you dont know the correspondent very wellits generic enough to be considered a polite (if rather meaningless) gesture.Heres a tip: Its okay to leave How are you? unanswered when responding to an email unless the answer is somehow pertinent.
5 Alternatives to Writing How are you doing? and How are you? in Email
Because theyre so ubiquitous, these phrases can disappear into the background or, worse, sound like insincere filler. And yet, sometimes you want to start an email with a bit of polite banter. Here are a few options.
1 It was fun to bump into you at [event]. Did you come away as fired up as I did?
If you know your contact, consider starting with something more personalized. A shared experience like a conference is always a good starting point, particularly if its relevant to the conversation to follow. Look for common ground and start from there.
2 I hope your day has been upbeat and productive.
Who doesnt want an upbeat, productive day? Think about the other persons work setting and come up with a few fun or clever ways to wish them well. Another example would be . . .
3 Are the ideas flowing along with the coffee?
Try something like this out on a Monday morning to beat the back-to-work doldrums.
4 I enjoyed your about [topic].
If you follow your contact on Twitter or keep an eye on their blog, you cant lose with a comment about their professional tweet or post. Just make sure your comment is a natural lead-in to the topic of your email or your comment will seem irrelevant.
5 Hi [Name],
You dont have to start with any friendly preamble. In fact, people who receive a lot of email will appreciate you getting straight to the point.
3 Ways to answer How are you? in Conversation
Most people agree its best not to take How are you? too literally. Although everyone asks, few people want you to recite a laundry list of the days events or personal struggles. Context clues will tell you whether the person asking is making a sincere inquiry about your welfare or just engaging in polite chit-chat.
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1 Im fine, thanks. How are you?
By far the most socially acceptable response to How are you? is Fine, thanks with a reciprocal, How are you?Heres a tip: In many cultures, How are you? and Fine, thanks; and you? are treated as a polite social interaction and nothing more. Similar exchanges happen in other cultures. In China, people often greet one another with, Hello! Have you eaten? The answer is always a polite yes, regardless of your current state of hunger, and never an enthusiastic, I could eat!
2 Im having one of those days. How about you?
This type of exchange is appropriate if youve come upon someone who seems to be having a challenging day and you want to share a little friendly commiseration. Be warned, though, that if the other person isnt also having one of those days, you might seem as though youre fishing for attention.
3 Happier than a seagull with a french fry!
If youre in a good mood, theres nothing wrong with sharing it. You might brighten someones day in the process. Can you think of a few clever similes to make your own?