English Salutations: Do You Really Know the Basics?

First Impressions with English Salutations

It’s really surprising the number of students that don’t know salutations in English.  You’d imagine that these simple phrases would be automatic after years of study, but it isn’t true.  Most students can say:

A: Hi, how are you?

B: Fine.

However,  the smallest variation throws them off (confuses them).   Imagine being in an interview and not being able to respond correctly to the first question – fatal mistake!  Don’t let that happen to you – read the following.

Remember that these two phrases are identical:

1. How are you?

2. How are you doing?

I repeat: there is zero difference between these two questions.  The answer should be your “state” not your “activity”.  Students hear the word “doing” and start talking about their activity.  Often they start listing their activities from early morning – I really don’t know why.  I think it must be a habit from classes they had as children.  To be honest, it sounds quite strange.  It would be like:

A: ¿Como estas?

B: Me levanté a las 7:00, comé mi desayuno a las 7:15, despues me duché…

A normal conversation would go:

A: How are you doing?

B: Great!  I got out of town this weekend.  How are you?

If someone wants to know about your activity, they will simply say:

What are you doing?

The above question is not really an introduction.  It is a way of asking for specific information.  How do we ask about “activity” with an introducion?  It is actually very easy, but be careful.  The opposite of the “activity vs. state” confustion happens with the extremely popular salutation:

What’s up?

You need to respond to this question with your “action” not your “state”.  Once again imagine the reverse:

A. ¿En que andas?

B. !Alegre!

Don’t you think it sounds bizarre?  A standard conversation with this phrase would sound like:

A: Hey, what’s up?

B: Not much.  I just got off (finished) work. What’s up with you?

If you don’t know theses salutations, take a moment to memorize them – you need to be able to use them reflexively.  Remember: sometimes a little difference can make a big difference!


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