What is a greeting?
Well, hi there! Now that you’ve been thoroughly greeted, let’s get down to business and talk about using different greetings in English. According to Merriam-Webster, a greeting is a salutation upon meeting someone, or an expression of good wishes. More simply, to greet someone is to say “hello” or to extend a polite word of welcome.
Each country or culture has its own way of greeting others, and these greetings are a part of every conversation. Think about how you greet new people in your native country. Do you have different ways to say “hello” when you meet someone in a store, at a job interview, at school, or at your own house? Just as there are different ways to say “hello” in your native language, there are different conventions to follow in English. It is important to know the common greetings and how to use them properly and confidently. They say that first impressions are everything, but I say that a first impression is nothing without the proper greeting.
Why are proper greetings important?
You may be wondering why you need to learn about greetings. Maybe you’re more comfortable using your native greeting, whether that be Hola, Kon’nichiwa, Ciao, or something else entirely. After all, you may think everyone will know what you mean. And you may be right. In a world that is quickly becoming one gigantic global village, the most common ways to say “hello” in different countries are becoming increasingly commonplace all across the world. No matter which English-speaking country you find yourself in, you’ll probably be able to get away with using non-English greetings. But, you know . . . when in Rome (or Toronto, Canada; or maybe London, England; or, heck, maybe even Sydney, Australia) . . .
You’re probably already aware of a few ways to say “hello” to someone in English, but there are actually dozens of greetings to use—in fact, too many to list here. Why does one silly language need so many different greetings, anyway? For one thing, English speakers like to avoid repetition. We would much rather create countless ways to convey one single message than face the possibility of having to repeat something someone else has already said. If one person says “Hello,” the other person will likely want to respond with another phrase. More important than this dread of redundancy, however, is that different circumstances call for different levels of formality. You would not greet a prospective employer in the same manner or tone that you would use for a classmate or friend (that is, not if you really want the job that employer has to offer.)
It may seem overwhelming at first, but over time you’ll learn which greetings to use in which situations. To help you get started, here are a few common English greetings (and examples of exchanges) that you can use in formal, informal, or casual situations.
Formal greetings: “How do you do?”
The phrase featured in the heading above is formal, a bit outdated, and not often used today. However, certain greetings are appropriate for use in more formal situations or when respect and courtesy are called for. These instances include business meetings, formal classroom or workplace presentations, or meeting a friend’s parents. You may encounter such greetings when doing business in restaurants and shops. There are many other options, but here are six of the most common formal ways to say “hello”:
2. “Good morning.”
3. “Good afternoon.”
4. “Good evening.”
5. “It’s nice to meet you.”
6. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” (These last two only work when you are meeting someone for the first time.)
Let’s take a look at how these phrases might be used:
Mr. Piper (arriving at his client’s office): “Good morning, Mr. Drummer. How are you today?”
Mr. Drummer: “Hello, Mr. Piper. I’m very well, thank you! Please come in and we can review that contract.”
Dr. Feelwell (addressing a group of colleagues at a seminar): “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight I would like to present the results of my study on ‘Healthy Fast Food Options.'”
Mary: “John, I’d like you to meet my father.”
John (shifting from one foot to the other): “Er . . . ah . . . It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Wolverine, sir.” (This exchange is sometimes accompanied by a polite handshake. However, if—like poor John here—you are indeed meeting Mr. Wolverine, you should be sure that the claws have not already appeared. If they have, it is perfectly acceptable to skip the handshake . . . perhaps you should just run!)
Informal general greetings
7. “Hi!” (Probably the most commonly used greeting in English)
8. “Morning!” (A more casual way of saying “Good morning”)
9. “How are things (with you)?”
10. “What’s new?”
11. “It’s good to see you.” (Used when you haven’t seen someone in a while)
12. “G’day!” (Short for “Good day”)
13. “Howdy!” (Often used in the southern regions of the United States)
Even though some of these expressions look like questions, the “greetee” is not always meant to answer them. In fact, confusing as it may seem, sometimes a question is answered with a question. And sometimes these greetings can be used in combination:
Jane: “Hi, Jake. What’s new?”
Jake: “G’day, Jane. How are things?” or “Morning, Jane. It’s good to see you!”
Casual informal greetings
These ways to say “hello” are used in very casual, friendly, and familiar contexts. They can be used in spoken English, text messages, voicemail messages, or emails with people that you know well. While they’re not exactly rude to use with strangers, they aren’t exactly polite, either. Using these greetings with people you don’t know well might cause confusion, and these greetings are not considered appropriate in certain contexts. You shouldn’t use these casual greetings in formal situations, as doing so might make the person you’re talking to think you aren’t taking that formal situation as seriously as you should be. For example, it would be wildly inappropriate to say “What’s happening?” to someone you were greeting at a funeral, and I would strongly advise against using “Yo!” when meeting a prospective employer at a job interview.
14. “Hey” or “Hey there.”
15. “What’s up?” (Sometimes expressed as “‘Sup?”)
16. “How’s it going?”
17. “What’s happening” or “What’s happenin’?”
These words and phrases are mostly used by young people to greet their friends when they arrive somewhere like a party, an exam, or a class. Again, although some of these greetings look like questions, no answers are expected.
Biff (as he approaches his classmates): “Yo! What’s happenin’?”
The Gang: “Hey. ‘Sup?” (Then they all mumble to each other for a bit, agree to skip English class, and head to the Sugar Shack for maple-bacon poutine. Welcome to my idealized version of 1950s Canada.)
This collection of ways to say “hello” is just the tip of the iceberg. The expressions are easy enough to learn; the tricky part is learning to use them appropriately. Try to use a different greeting every time you meet someone new, get together with your friends, or purchase something at the mall. You’ll be a master of English greetings in no time flat!
Image sources: Unsplash, Gellinger/Pixabay.com