Informal & Professional English Greetings for Every Situation

Dec 7, 2022 | Advanced Vocabulary

This lesson was originally posted in February 2016.
It was updated in December 2022 with new content and a video lesson.

Have you ever heard someone you don’t know say, 

  • Hey, what’s up?
  • Hi, how’s it going?

Perhaps it was a stranger you walked past in your neighborhood. Or someone you’ve seen at work once or twice but you don’t really know.

 

What exactly are they asking? Do they want to know how your day is going?

Not quite.

 

And is it polite or respectful to say “Hey, how’s it going” even with people you don’t know very well, like your neighbors?

Well. Sometimes. 

 

In this Confident English lesson, you’ll learn other ways to say hello in English with greetings for professional situations, casual conversations, and encounters with strangers or people you don’t know well. 

You’ll understand the nuances of age, for example greeting peers vs. someone older than you.

And you’ll l earn a common structure of English greetings – most of the time, we don’t stop with a simple hello.  

Lastly, if you’re not sure what someone really wants to know when they say, “What’s up” or “How’s it going”, we’ll talk about that too. Including when someone truly wants to know how you’re doing.

English Greetings for Informal and Professional Situations — Other Ways to Say Hello

Common Structure for English Greetings

Let’s start with a structure you’re likely to hear (and use) for spoken greetings in English. 

In an effort to be friendly and polite, it’s not uncommon for an English speaker to casually greet a friend, a neighbor, an acquaintance, or even a stranger with a greeting such as 

  • Hi, how’s it going?
  • Hey, what’s up?
  • Hey, how are ya?

 

To be clear, these are casual, friendly greetings that can be used in a variety of situations. 

And they all mean one thing: hello.

 

These are simple, polite greetings that acknowledge someone’s presence or take the first step in starting a conversation.

In this structure, you have a single greeting word (hi/hey) + a question. 

 

For example, How’s it going or what’s up?

However, this isn’t the same as asking: how are you? 

It’s not an invitation to talk about your day, how you’re feeling, or what’s happening at work right now.

In fact, the only response expected is a similar: “Hey, how’s it going?” or “Hi. Good. You?

 

In other words, you exchange one greeting with a similar greeting. No one shares specific details about how they are feeling or what is happening in their life.

What this means is two strangers might politely pass each other on the street and say: 

A: Hey, what’s up?

B: Hey, how’s it going?

In this exchange, they are simply saying hello to each other.

 

If that’s the case, then how do you know when someone is REALLY asking: How are you?

That’s a great question. And I’ll be answering shortly but first, let’s look at other ways to say hello casually and professionally.

English Greetings for Informal Situations

Let’s start with casual greetings to use most of the time, whether you’re greeting a friend, a coworker on the elevator, a neighbor you’ve never spoken to, or a complete stranger on an early morning walk.

Because I’m an American and I currently live in the U.S., I’ll focus on greetings used in the United States.

There may be common greetings where you live that I haven’t included here. 

If you’re not sure what to say, I recommend listening to others around you, particularly those who consistently speak with politeness, kindness, and warmth. Which greetings to they typically use? 

This is a good way to identify the best ways to say hello to others where you live.

Now here are several you can use: 

 

Good Morning

This is the most formal way to say hello in casual conversation but it’s also very friendly and warm. With this combination of formality and warmth, it’s perfect to use when passing by a stranger on a morning walk, greeting a neighbor, or saying hello to coworkers.

Of course, because it includes the word ‘morning’ we stop using it around noon.

 

Hello / Hi / Hey / Hey there 

These are all common ways of saying “hello” in a casual, friendly way, and quite often, these are immediately followed by a question such as…

 

How’s it going? / What’s going on? / How’s everything? 

These questions are typically combined with hi, hey, or hey there. For example

  • Hey, how’s everything? 
  • Hey there. How’s it going?
  • Hello. How’s it going?

When responding to these greetings, the expectation is that you use simple answers or simply respond with a similar greeting. For example

  • Hi, how’s it going?
  • Good, thanks. You?
  • Fine thanks, you?
  • Everything’s great, thanks. You?

 

What’s up? / What’s new?

Similar to how’s it going but more informal is what’s up or what’s new

For example:

  • Hey, what’s up?

Common responses include:

  • Not much.
  • Nothing.
  • Hey, what’s new?

 

Here is an example dialogue:

A: Hey Mina, what’s up?

B: Oh, hey. Not much. How’s it going?

 

Yo 

While not as common as hi or hey, you may occasionally hear “yo.” It is typically only used with individuals who know each other well and is more common

 

Howdy 

“Howdy” is a regional greeting, which means it is only used in some areas of the United States. 

 

Good to see you. / It’s been ages! (since I’ve seen you.) / Where have you been hiding? / What have you been up to? 

These are common greetings when you have not seen someone you know for some time and often follow a hi or hey.

These expressions can be used as part of your greeting when you see someone unexpectedly, at a party, a family gathering, etc. 

The question “where have you been hiding” invites conversation. It is a way of saying, “How have you been?” Here is an example dialogue:

A: Hey! It’s good to see you! It’s been ages! Where have you been hiding?

B: Hi Sue, what’s up? I’ve just been busy, working a lot of long hours. What about you? How have you been?

A: Everything’s good. Nothing new really.

English Greetings for Professional Situations

Let’s transition to situations in which we may need more formal or business professional language in English. Some common examples include

  • Business meetings & negotiations
  • At a job interview
  • Communicating with high-level management
  • Saying hello to the company president or CEO
  • Meeting new business colleagues
  • Communicating with new clients, high-level clients, angry clients

 

Good morning / Good afternoon / Good Evening

Good morning is the only one on this list that is commonly used in place of “hello” when greeting an individual. 

To be particularly respectful, you can also include the person’s last name, for example: “Good morning, Ms Jones.” If you know someone well, you can also use their first name.

 When you are greeting a group of people – for example at a meeting – you can also say something such as:

  • Good morning, everyone. I hope you are doing well this morning.

In greeting an entire group, this is also when someone might use Good afternoon or Good evening. 

For example, at the start of a presentation or lecture.

 

How do you do?

How do you do is a bit old-fashioned and not often used. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever used it. 

It is also quite formal and is used when meeting someone for the first time. 

It’s often confused with the question “How are you?” but it isn’t a question at all. How do you do is a statement. A greeting. It’s an alternative to “I’m pleased to meet you.”

 

Hello / Hi 

Similar to the casual greetings we discussed, we’ll often start a professional conversation with a simple hi or hello.

 

How have you been doing? / How have you been?

Similar to asking “how’s it going,” these questions will often be used after a hi or hello as a polite greeting.

The expectation is to receive a short, positive focused response such as:

  • Great, thank you. And you?
  • Very well. How are you?
  • Good thanks. How about you?

When does “How are you” mean “How are you?”

With our casual and professional greetings, we’ve heard many alternatives to the question “How are you” including

  • How’s it going?
  • What’s new?
  • What’s up?
  • How have you been?

But none of them really ask, how are you? When those questions get asked in a greeting, we don’t really expect a lengthy conversation about how you’re doing.

So when does someone what a real answer? When does someone truly want to know how you are?

The secret: they will ask you twice. 

 

Imagine you unexpectedly see a coworker at the grocery store. Here’s what that conversation might sound like:

  • Your Coworker: Hey Sue! Good to see you. How’s it going?
  • You: Good thanks. And you?
  • Your Coworker. Everything’s fine. Just busy with the kids, of course. So how are you? It’s been a tough few weeks at work with the looming deadline, hasn’t it?

 

What do you notice?

In that dialogue, the coworker asked ‘how are you’ a second time, after the initial polite greeting. When that happens, someone really wants to know how you’re doing.

I’d love to hear from you! What is your favorite greeting in English? 

In your English life, do you use informal or professional greetings more often? What lessons have you learned about greetings in English from your own experiences?

Please be sure to share your experiences or ask questions in the comments section below.

~Annemarie

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