The Right Greeting for Every Situation in English

Feb 17, 2016 | 38 comments

This lesson has been updated. It was originally posted in February 2016 and updated in June 2017.

The first step in starting a conversation is your greeting. This is what you say at the very first moment that you see someone or speak on the telephone.

And this is the first impression a new person will have about you when you speak.

When greeting someone, it is important to use the appropriate level of formality for each situation. Are you comfortable using formal, professional, or casual greetings in English? Do you know when you use them? Or what about slang?

This is exactly what this lesson will help you do so you can greet others in English with confidence in any situation. Plus, I have a new free download for you: Use the Right Response to Any Greeting in English.

You’ll know exactly what to say in English and when!

“When greeting someone in English, it’s important to use the right level of formality for each situation. And that’s exactly what I’ll help you learn in this lesson.”

English Greetings for Professional/Formal Situations

There are many 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
  • Showing respect to elderly individuals or people we do not know well
  • Meeting new business colleagues
  • Communicating with new clients, high-level clients, angry clients

In these situations we use more formal or professional language to show respect, to show the importance of a situation or the person or to keep a professional tone. Use the example words and expressions below to appropriate greet individuals or groups and start conversations.

Good morning / Good afternoon / Good Evening

This is the most common form of greeting in a formal situation and is appropriate to use anytime – with colleagues, business clients, formal relationships, new neighbors, etc.

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 the 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.

Hello. How do you do?

This is used when meeting someone for the first time and is very formal. It may be used in a formal business situation or a formal dinner party event.

Be careful. This is not really a “How are you?” question. It is really a simple greeting and has a similar meaning to “Nice to meet you.

Nice to meet you. / Pleased to meet you.

You are probably already familiar with these expressions from your English studies as they are common in many English books.

These expressions are best used in formal or business situations when you meet someone for the first time, for example, A: “Good morning. How do you do? I’m Josef Rammas with X Company.” B: “Pleased to meet you Mr. Rammas.

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

This is a very simple, polite and appropriate question to use to start a conversation in a business or formal situation. It is a respectful way to ask “How are you?” with someone you have not seen in a long time or someone you do not see every day.

English Greetings for Informal Situations

With colleagues you know well, clients you have developed a relationship with or people who are acquaintances of yours (not close friends or family, but people you are friendly with), it is appropriate to be a little more relaxed with the language.

Example situations include:

  • In the office with your team and colleagues
  • Meeting or a lunch with a regular client
  • Networking events
  • Trade show or job fair
  • Conferences
  • Greeting neighbors
  • Seeing an acquaintance unexpectedly (for example, seeing someone you know at the grocery store or in a restaurant)

It is often also very common to shake hands with someone when you greet them. This is common for business contacts and acquaintances.

Hello / Hi / Hey

Hello and hi are very common and appropriate to use in more informal situations. Most of the time, people include the person’s first name (English speakers tend to be more informal generally speaking).

  • Hello, Susan.
  • Hi, Lara.

Hey should be reserved for people you know well. This is the most informal of these 3 greetings but it is definitely appropriate for people in your office you see every day and your close work colleagues.

How are you? / How are you doing? / How is it going?

Most of the time we follow “hello” or “hi” with one of these questions.

Careful! These questions should have very simple answers and should be focused on the positive or neutral. You should not answer with a list of everything you did during the day nor should you provide a negative answer.

Example answers include:

  • Fine, thanks. And you?
  • Great! You?
  • Hi, Susan – good thanks. How about you?
  • Doing well. And how have you been?
  • Not bad. And you? How are you?
  • Hello, Lara. How are you?*
    • *Yes, sometimes the answer is with the same question (remember – we have this same situation in Business Professional greetings with How do you do?). This is often confusing the first time you hear it or experience it. Remember – these questions can also be a greeting, not a real question. This is commonly used when passing or walking by someone you know but you have no time to talk.

Good to see you. / It’s great to see you. / Nice to see you.

You can use these expressions when you have not seen someone in a long time or when you see someone unexpectedly.
For example, meeting a client for a lunch, seeing a business contact at a meeting or seeing an acquaintance at the grocery store.
These expressions can be used:

  • Immediately after saying hello or hi in the greeting. For example, Hello, Susan. It’s good to see you!
  • As part of your closing, after you finish a short conversation. For example, Well, it was great to see you. I have to get going. Have a good day. Goodbye.

Long-time, no see. / It’s been awhile. / When was the last time we saw each other?

These expressions are used when you have not seen someone for a long time. These are also great expressions to use to start a little small talk. The question “When was the last time we saw each other?” is an easy way to start a conversation about what has happened since you last saw each other.

How have you been? / How have things been going (since I last saw you)? / What have you been up to?

These questions are often used after an expression such as, “Long-time, no see” or “It’s been awhile.”

These are similar to asking “How are you?” and are great ways to start some small talk. The questions invite the person to say how they are doing or to share any new, interesting information they are comfortable sharing. For example:

  • Great thanks. Did you hear we are moving to California next month?
  • Doing well. We’ve just returned from our summer vacation. And how about you?
  • Nothing to complain about! The family is good and work is fine. Just the same old, same old. What about you?

English Greetings and Slang for Casual Situations

These greetings are very informal and should be used with people you know very well such as close friends, family, long-time work colleagues or friends you have known for a very long time.

While you may use some of these greetings with English-speaking work colleagues you know well in an everyday situation, these greetings would not be appropriate for a work meeting or to use in any official work events.
Good example situations include:

  • Colleagues you see every day and know well
  • Friends and family
  • At a bar or party
  • Seeing an old friend

*It is very important to remember that slang is regional.
Slang greetings can change from country to country, region to region and even city to city. It is important to learn which slang may be appropriate or understood in the region you are in or the people you are communicating with.

For example, using: G’day is generally understood as an Australian greeting. It would sound strange to an American if you used this greeting.

The examples provided here are focused on American English. These are common to what you may hear in American TV shows and movies or with your American colleagues and friends.

If you would like to have some examples of several British casual or slang greetings, here is an article from BBC America called 5 Slang Ways to Say Hello.

And finally, if using these greetings in America, don’t be surprised if someone tries to hug you. While in formal and informal business situations it is common to shake hands, in very casual and familial situations people often hug each other.

Hi / Hey / Hey there / Hey man

These are all common ways of saying “hello” with friends and family.

“Hi” can be used to casually greet people you know well or if you are meeting someone for the first time at a party, for example. However, “hey” is used with people you already know. “Hey” and “Hey there” are most often used among younger people or with peers. While someone may use these greetings with their mother or father, it is not common to use these with one’s grandparents for example.

“Hey man” is used among males and “hey dude” is a similar example. There is not an equivalent causal greeting used only among women. Examples:

  • Hi!
  • Hey man
  • Hey Steve
  • Hey mom
  • Hey there everyone

Yo

“Yo” is a very informal greeting and should only be used among friends. It is generally not a greeting to be used with parents, teachers or your boss, even if you know them very well.

Howdy

“Howdy” is a regional greeting, which means it is only used in some areas of the United States, for example in the southern region, some midwestern regions and more rural regions. If you use this to greet a friend in New York City, for example, it may sound very strange. A person may think you are speaking like a cowboy or a farmer and, because it is not often used in cities, they may laugh a bit.

“Howdy” is believed to be a shortened form of “How do you do.”

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

These can all be simple greetings or questions similar to “How are you?” Careful! Similar to the informal situations above, the answer to these questions should usually be a simple answer. Example answers include:

  • Good, you?
  • Fine, you?
  • Not bad
  • Hey! How’s it going?*
    • *Yes, again it is important to remember this can be a greeting, not a question. This is particularly true when you are just passing by someone with no time to stop and talk. Here is a possible sample dialogue:
      • A: Hey Dawn, good to see you! How’s it going?
      • B: Hey there! How’s it going?

What’s up? / What’s new?

This is a common, informal way of say “hi” and “how are you.” For “what’s up?” – in pronunciation and informal spelling (for example in texting or an informal email between friends, you might hear/see: Sup / Whassup / Whazzup Common answers include:

  • Not much.
  • Nothing.
  • Hey, what’s up.

Here is an example dialogue:

A: Hey Mina, what’s up?

B: Oh, hey. Not much. How’s it going?

 

Long-time, no see. / It’s been ages! (since I’ve seen you.) / Where have you been hiding?

Similar to the informal situations above, you may use one of these expressions when you have not seen a friend or family member for a very long time.

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: Ah fine. Nothing new really.

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

Get the Confidence to Say What You Want in English

Download my free training on how to build the courage and confidence you need to say what you want in English.

You'll also get my Confident English lessons delivered by email every Wednesday and occasional information about available courses. You can unsubscribe any time.

Most Recent Lessons