Never Get Lost with These English Greetings
Ever wondered how to “correctly” greet that new classmate of yours? Maybe a random person in the street you just want to ask for directions? Oh, what about your boss and co-workers? In the real world, different situations and people are cause for using very specific English greetings, especially if we constantly find ourselves among native speakers or in a place where the native language is English.
English greetings are the greatest conversation starter there is. If you fail at using the right one with anyone in particular, your interaction with that person might be a bit awkward. So, let’s try to avoid that. In this article, we’ll take a look at some common English greetings and expressions in both formal and informal settings as well as understand when and why to use them.
Common/Everyday English Greetings
Hello, Hi, Hey
If the traditional “Hello” isn’t a good enough English greeting for you, you can use “Hi” or “Hey” instead. The differences? Both “Hello” and “Hi” can be used in any casual situation. However, “Hey” should only be used with people you’ve already met. If you ever slip up and say “Hey” to a stranger, be aware that you might only confuse them, as they will probably assume that the two of you had previously met somewhere.
In short, you should only use “Hey” around people you know while you may use “Hi” or Hey” with anyone. One more thing… please note that “Hey” doesn’t necessarily have the same exact meaning as “Hello” or “Hi”, as you may use “Hey” to call for someone’s attention (not greet them).
How are you? How are you doing? How’s it going?
In a nutshell, “How are you doing?” and “How’s it going?” are slightly more casual ways of asking someone the traditional “How are you?”. However, “How are you?” is the most polite version of the three, so keep that in mind if you’re trying to be particularly polite to someone.
Also, if someone asks you the same question, you may answer with a simple (technically grammatically incorrect… but acceptable) “good” and then follow up with “and you?”. This allows you to stay polite all the way, not just when you’re the one doing all the greeting.
What’s up? What’s new? What’s going on?
These are all slightly more informal ways of asking “How are you?”. Most people use these English greetings with people they’ve already met. Some typical answers to these questions might include “Nothing” or “Not much”, followed by “How about you?”.
However, if you feel like these might be short or even impolite answers, feel free to engage in some small talk and briefly describe something that has happened to you recently. It never hurts to make new friends.
Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening
These English greetings are commonly used instead of “Hello” in a business setting and are time-sensitive, depending on the time of day you’re greeting someone. There’s also “Goodnight” but be aware that this expression doesn’t necessarily mean “Hello” but the exact opposite, “Goodbye”.
So, if you’re just passing by someone during late hours and you want to greet them, you should say “Good evening”. On the other hand, if you’re headed home, the right choice is “Goodnight”.
Another piece of advice: if you’re constantly spending time in a formal setting, it’s best to start greeting the people around you like this, wait to see how they respond over time, and then start using a more casual greeting like “Hi”, “Hey” or similar.
Pleased to meet you. or (It’s) nice to meet you.
You just landed an interview and don’t want to mess up as soon as you walk in the room? Good. These two expressions won’t fail you, regardless of how formal the setting is. However, if you still feel the need to amp up the formality level, you may also say “(It’s a) pleasure to meet you”.
Moreover, both “Pleased to meet you” and “Nice to meet you” can also be used more casually, in a non-business setting. However, “Pleased to meet you” does express a bit more politeness hence it’s commonly used for greeting someone older than you or a person of importance.
How have you been?
This expression usually follows an initial “Hello” or “Hi” but the important thing to note is that you should only ask this a person you’ve already met as a way to get the conversation going. If you get asked the same question, your response should be either “I’ve been good.” or just “Good.” followed by either “What about you?” or “How about you?”.
There is also the less common but extremely formal “How do you do?”. In my opinion, this has to be one of if not the most formal expression of all time. It’s usually used by older people in very formal settings.
Sup? Wussup? Whazzup?
All of the above are just informal variations of “What’s up?” and are pretty common among teenagers (teenagers tend to think these words make them cooler). In today’s world where every character you type counts, these expressions are mostly used in text messages and throughout social media.
Needless to say, you should avoid using any of these at all costs in a more formal or business setting.
Okay, I have a tiny confession to make. This one is probably my most used greeting among friends. It originated back in the ‘80s in hip-hop songs and nowadays it’s often used jokingly, which brings me to the most important part about this very informal English greeting.
You should only use it with friends, not just anybody you know and especially not in a more formal setting. No worries, there’s nothing wrong connoted by this greeting but it just screams “informal” every time you say it. Keep that in mind.
In an ideal world for English learners, you could practice all of today’s greetings on a daily basis but what happens if you don’t have constant access to native speakers? This is where LingQ comes in! LingQ’s English lessons are a great way to practice and use English greetings and expressions the right way. There are hundreds of hours of content which you can listen and read. Afterwards, save your new vocabulary and LingQ will automatically create review flashcards using a variety of testing methods such as multiple choice, dictation, and much more.
Jasmin Alić is an award-winning EFL/ESL teacher and writing aficionado from Bosnia and Herzegovina with years of experience in multicultural learning environments.