“Hey! How’s it going?” This is a very common greeting in American English; it transcends colloquial or regional dialects.
It is understood by most every American, but for those who don’t speak English as their first language or for those who are simply shy, finding the right way to respond can be difficult.
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Let’s look at various ways one can respond to the casual greeting “Hey!”
1. “Hey!” (Yes, you can respond in kind!)
To respond to “Hey!” with your own “Hey!” is most appropriate when you know the person to whom you’re responding. For example, you are walking to work and you see a familiar face.
She says “Hey!” and you respond with the same. You’ll likely have a brief conversation also, unless either (or both) of you are in a hurry. Just remember this response is usually given to someone you know, not a stranger.
If you do not know the person very well, you can use this classic greeting to respond to “Hey!”
It is polite, and, if they person seems a little unfamiliar, it won’t give away that you don’t fully recognize the person.
For example, you meet someone with a familiar face on the street or at the grocery store.
He speaks, saying, “Hey!” You’re not quite sure if you know this person, but responding with “Hello!” is a polite way to return the greeting.
3. “Hi” or “Hi there!”
This is a greeting you typically use with someone you know well, such as a friend, a neighbor or a co-worker. For instance, you’re in the supermarket and see a co-worker.
The co-worker says, “Hey!” and you respond with “Hi there!” Be prepared for a bit of a conversation after the initial greeting.
4. “Hey there!”
This falls under the same category as “Hi there!”
It is used with someone you’re familiar with, and you should once again be prepared for a conversation with the individual.
5. “Hey! How’s it going?”
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This is a traditional way of casually saying hello to a fairly familiar individual. This will typically invoke a conversation.
However, you can use this with someone that is an acquaintance as well.
Typically, the familiar person will speak first, saying, “Hey!” to which you’ll respond “Hey! How’s it going?”
Don’t use this response, however, if you aren’t prepared to have a little conversation afterward.
6. “What’s up?”
This is a highly informal way to answer “Hey!” It is also typical of young people to answer “Hey!” with this phrase. For example, your roommate walks in and says “Hey!” to which you answer “What’s up?” This response should not be used with people you don’t know very well or in formal situations, such as with your employer or supervisor.
7. “What’s happening?”
This is an informal way to respond to “Hey!” It should be used in situations where you are familiar with the individual, and it should never be used in a professional situation.
Picture a conversation in which your sibling walks into a room and says, “Hey!” Your response of “What’s happening?” is appropriate even though it is informal.
8. “How goes it?”
This is another informal way of responding to “Hey!” It is often seen as a witty way to respond to “Hey!” This, like “What’s up?” and “What’s happening?” should be used with people whom you know (read: those who will get your sense of humor).
Using this conversationally, you see a friend from school or from your neighborhood (ideally someone you’ve spend a good deal of time with). She says, “Hey!” and you answer, almost comically, “How goes it?”
9. “How are you?”
This is a formal way to respond when someone says “Hey!” This can be used to greet someone who isn’t quite familiar.
However, you can use this with someone you do know fairly well with ease. A neighbor walks by you while taking an after-dinner stroll and says “Hey!” when he sees you.
You can respond with “How are you?” without the expectation of a conversation.
10. “Good morning!” (or “Good afternoon/evening!”)
This is a formal way to respond to “Hey!” You may use it with someone unfamiliar or your co-worker or even an employer or supervisor. Just be sure to answer according to the time of day!
You can also use this if you want to prevent a long conversation with someone.
By answering “Hey!” with a statement, you are being polite without really giving the other individual much room to start a conversation.
11. “Hey you!”
Have you ever had someone speak to you, but you can’t remember the person’s name? Saying “Hey you!” gives you an out.
You can be polite, respond appropriately, and you can even exchange “How are you?” without the other individual knowing you haven’t quite identified them and their relationship to you.
12. “What are you up to?”
This can be used in informal conversation, and it is typically used with someone you are at least somewhat familiar with.
This is appropriate when you have time for a short conversation, such as at a dinner party or an office get together.
A typical conversation using this response might be as follows: (Familiar friend) “Hey!” (You) “Hey! What are you up to?”
This can also be used if you see a friend you haven’t seen in some time.
13. “How’s your day going?”
Again, this is to be reserved for someone with whom you are acquainted. This could be used at the office, at school, or in an informal situation such as running into a familiar face while out running errands.
Be aware that this is going to initiate further conversation (more than likely) so, if you are in a hurry, don’t use this greeting. Keep in mind some people will tell you more about their day than you actually care to hear.
14. “Hey! What a pleasant surprise!”
This is a formal greeting that you would use with someone familiar, who is a face you haven’t seen in a while.
Again, be prepared for conversation after using this greeting – however, it is likely if you choose this response, you are ready to slow down and have a short visit with this individual.
There are many ways to respond when someone says “Hey!” Be careful to use certain greetings in formal situations, and always be polite – even if the person greeting you is unfamiliar.
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