1. Give someone a compliment and tie it to a question.
What is a greeting?Hola! Shalom! Czesc! Marhaba! Salut! Hallo!
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
These greetings can be used in most informal situations when you are saying hello to a colleague or to someone you meet on the street.
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!
A billion people are learning English around the world and most of them are struggling with the same things. In 12 years of teaching ESL (English as a Second Language), I was surprised to find that there is little overlap between the mistakes foreigners make and the struggles native speakers have. English learners rarely mix up they’re/there/their or your/you’re and certainly have much less trouble with apostrophes than I do. The unpredictability of English spelling is hard for learners and native speakers alike but, for the foreigner, it’s the grammar native speakers use without thinking that proves the trickiest. Here are five of the biggest quagmires in English.
1. EVERYDAY WORDS THAT DON’T MEAN ANYTHING
How would you describe what you do in the mornings? Something like this, I expect: "When my alarm goes off, I get up, take off my pajamas, put on my clothes and set off to work."
That list looks basic, but it's full of one of the most frustratingly perplexing constructions in English: the dreaded phrasal verb—verbs followed by one or two prepositions. The key words in that sentence make no sense to millions of people around the world learning English as a foreign language. Your alarm goes where? Why do you get up rather than stand up? Clothing gets put on but not put off, taken off but not taken on. And as for set and off, neither of those words really mean anything at all if you think about them, so what on earth do they mean when they're together?
There are thousands of phrasal verbs, literally enough to fill special dictionaries just for them. To make it worse, any one of these unfathomable constructions can have several meanings. How many definitions can you think of for "to put off"?
2. TOO MANY WAYS TO TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE
When it comes to talking about what we’re going to do next, English makes things as confusing as possible. We have eight (or more, depending on whether you count expressions like It’s bound to rain tomorrow) different grammatical structures to express the future. They often convey extremely subtle subtexts which another native speaker automatically picks up on.
For example, I ask you about your plans for dinner tonight and you say, “I’ll get pizza on the way home.” I know you just decided spontaneously to do that. Whereas, if you tell me you’re going to get pizza, I understand that you’ve given it prior thought. And, if you say, “I’m getting pizza,” I know it’s fixed in your mind as part of tonight’s plan, maybe you’ve even booked the restaurant. Or, you might say “I was going to get pizza,” a structure that’s sometimes known as the future in the past, signaling you might be open to changing your mind. Finally, “The pizza guy delivers at 8 p.m.” tells me you’re a junk food addict with a regularly scheduled delivery.
There are at least three more future mashups (I’ll be eating, I’ll have eaten, I will have been eating) that make the plot of Interstellar look simple. When foreigners start learning English, they are taught to use will. And then they spend the rest of their English learning career unlearning everything they thought they knew. And that’s just to talk about the real future—when we start talking about the imaginary future, it’s even worse.
3. THE UNREAL FUTURE
Imagine two employees talking about their future. Neither of them are particularly in love with their jobs, so they share their dreams for changing their lives. "If I changed careers, I'd become a vet," one says. The other replies, "Yeah, if I change careers, I'll become a chef."
If we were eavesdropping on their conversation, we would unconsciously know that the first employee sees themselves as unlikely to ever follow their dream, just from their grammar. But the second person sees the possibility of changing career as much likelier to happen. The English learner, however, is struggling to work out whether the conversation is about the future at all, let alone the degree of likelihood it carries.
“If I changed careers …” in the past? “If I change careers…” now? In English conditionals like these, we use the past to show we’re talking about an unlikely future, and the present to show we’re talking about a probable future. Which makes no sense unless you’re Marty McFly.
4. LITTLE WORDS HAVE BIG JOBS
If you’ve never had to study grammar in any depth, you might not know that you use auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary supposedly means “helping,” but never has a grammar term been more misleadingly applied. For the student of English they are an impediment that begins at entry level and keeps on being a problem forever. English uses them to ask questions, to negate sentences, to give emphasis, and to show we already know the answer to the question we’re asking. They are the little words be, do, and have, their past equivalents was/were, did, and had, and the negatives of all seven of them. And any other words that get added in to “help,” like will, would, can, should etc. Now, has that made it clear? They aren’t easy, though they do trip off the tongue for native speakers, don’t they?
If that’s not unhelpful enough, the position of the auxiliary relative to the “main” verb in the sentence varies depending on the tense and whether it’s a question or a statement. Also, not all questions need an auxiliary (subject questions like “Who saw you?” as opposed to “Who did you see?”), and “to be” has its own rules.
5. LITTLE WORDS HAVE LONG RULES
English has some even smaller words that cause problems far out of proportion to their size: the and a/an, otherwise known as the definite and indefinite article. If you’ve grappled with Spanish or French at school, you might think English has it easy since there’s no gender to learn. But English makes up for that with its ton of rules about when to use a, when to use the, and when to use nothing. Even people who’ve been speaking English fluently for 20 years or more make mistakes with them where native speakers never would.
These are some of the general difficulties people have speaking English but, depending on the person’s mother tongue, there are other specific hurdles to face. Next time you think someone’s English could do to improve, try to consider how much they've already overcome.