You gently place your groceries upon the conveyor belt and make eye contact with the cashier. She asks, “How are you doing?” What does this question mean, and what is a proper response?
It is correct to say, “How are you doing?” to ask someone how their life is going, how they are feeling, or simply to say “Hello.” It’s like asking, “How are you faring in life?” “How are you doing?” usually functions as a polite greeting, though you can also ask it to get information too.
Read on to discover more about this question and how to use it correctly.
What Does “How Are You Doing?” Mean?
When you ask, “How are you doing?” you are asking about the well-being of another person. Yet, this question is more of a polite expression than an invitation to tell explicit details about your health or life situation. Therefore, tone and context are essential to understand the question’s meaning.
For example, your friend knows you have received a troubling report from the doctor’s office. Cancer has returned. When she calls you on the phone, she asks, “How are you doing?” In this context, the question sincerely asks how you are faring with this unsettling news.
You order a coffee at your local coffee shop, and the barista greets you by asking, “How are you doing?” You decide to tell him about the fight you just had with your parents. However, he seems inconvenienced by your story. Did he not ask you how you were doing?
You are walking down the street, and a passerby says, “Hey, how are you doing?” As you begin to answer, you notice that he has kept walking, not even waiting for your answer. This is because “How are you doing?” has become a greeting like “Hello.”
If you use it as a greeting, “How are you doing?” is not an invitation to share personal details about your life. It is simply a polite greeting. If a friend uses it, it is meant as a legitimate question or at least as a potential conversation-starting question.
The word “doing” in this sentence can be confusing. We tend to think of “doing” as an action. But it is also a synonym for “faring.” So that is the usage here; it carries a meaning similar to “coping” (source).
There is perhaps some connection here with the older British greeting, “How do you do?” Eventually, the greeting morphed into “How are you doing?” or the more informal “How you doing?” This is why the confusion remains. People use it as a legitimate question like “How are you faring?” as well as a greeting: “How do you do?” (source).
How Do You Use “How Are You Doing?”
“How are you doing?” is typically an informal greeting. However, you can also use it as an authentic question to ask how a person is faring in life. Or you could use it as a dependent clause to ask about progress on a project.
You might hear a shortened version in English: “How you doing?” This is incorrect grammar because it omits the main verb “are.” “How are you doing?” is the grammatically correct way to ask the question.
You may use “How are you doing?” formally or informally, but it is slightly casual for super formal contexts where you should opt instead for “How are you?” It is best to use this form if you genuinely want to know how a loved one is faring. Others may perceive it as a greeting if you use the incorrect and condensed versions of this question.
You can also use “how are you doing” as a dependent clause. In this case, you are asking about the progress of a project or specific task. For example, you might ask someone, “How are you doing on the building project?”
It is also possible that a superior may ask this question without using a dependent clause. In this instance, you might assume that your boss is asking about the building project, not your life situation. Context is helpful.
To learn more about how to use the similar question, “How is it going?” consider this article: Is It Correct to Say “How Is It Going?”
How Do You Answer “How Are You Doing?”
If someone uses this as a legitimate question, you can respond by sharing about your life situation. If it is only a polite greeting, there are several quality responses. When someone uses it as a polite expression, they expect that you reciprocate the question.
If someone uses “How are you doing?” as a legitimate question, consider simply answering the question with how things are going in your life. But it is still wise to ease into sharing your life situation. It is good to make statements that invite more conversation rather than immediately dumping your life story.
If things are going poorly, consider saying, “Not so well today.” Or if things are going well, consider saying, “I am having a terrific day.” These statements allow the person to ask follow-up questions.
If someone uses it only as a greeting, consider these quality responses:
- I’m doing well, thanks. How are you?
- I’m great, thank you for asking. How about you?
- Doing fine, you?
- Hey, what’s up?
- Good. You?
- I’m doing okay, and how is your day going?
When Can You Use “How Are You Doing?”
You can use “How are you doing?” as either a formal or an informal greeting. You can also use it as an authentic question to determine how someone is faring in life. You can even use its abbreviated form flirtatiously.
You can use “How are you doing?” formally and informally. For example, you can use it as a simple greeting as you walk down the street or as a question of loving concern for another person.
In the 1990s, this question became famous as a method of flirting due to its regular use by a character on the hit television show Friends (source). The television show uses the abbreviated version, “How you doin’?”
Nobody would think you are flirting if you simply ask, “How are you doing?” But if you hear someone saying, “How you doin’?” with a particular emphasis on the “you,” this could be a flirtatious term.
This is a versatile question that one can use in almost any setting.
Using “How Are You Doing” in a Full Sentence
“How are you doing?” usually stands on its own as a question. However, you can add those words to the end to ask about something specific.
This can stand alone as its own question. If you change the word order to “How you are doing,” you have created a dependent clause. You would need to say something like, “I want to know how you are doing.”
If you are addressing a specific person, you can put their name on either side of the question. For example, “Mark, how are you doing?” is a proper sentence, and so is “How are you doing, Mark?” Typically, using a person’s name in this question is not a simple greeting.
- How are you doing on this project?
- How are you doing today?
- Speaking of which, how are you doing with the diagnosis?
- And how are you doing on this fine day?
- How are you doing at school?
When Not to Use “How Are You Doing?”
“How are you doing” is a question you can use in almost any setting. However, it may not be appropriate for an employee to ask his/her boss. Using it with an improper tone or in the wrong context could be perceived as a prying question.
Though this is a question you can use in almost any setting, it may be inappropriate for an employee to ask their boss. As a greeting, it might seem too informal. As a legitimate question, it might seem prying.
There is seldom a risk of using this question as a polite greeting. However, there are some situations where it might be inappropriate as an authentic question. For example, this is not a helpful question for a grieving widow at the funeral.
What Can You Use Instead of “How Are You Doing?”
Since “How are you doing?” is a polite question that native English speakers use to greet one another, there are several alternatives that equate in meaning.
There are a few incorrect forms of this question that you will hear occasionally. The flirtatious “How you doin’?” is less common than 10-20 years ago, but it will still sometimes appear. The more common form is “How you doing?”
Here are a few alternative questions that use correct grammar:
- How are you?
- How’s it going?
- Are you doing well?
- What’s up?
- How are you today?
- How is your day going?
To read more about a similar question, consider: Is It Correct to Say “How is Everything Going”?
In English, it is typical etiquette to ask a question indirectly. This keeps speakers from sounding confrontational or invasive. Some questions function as polite greetings.
“How are you doing?” is an example of a polite question. Though it could be a legitimate question, it more often than not functions as a simple, polite greeting. It is not authentically asking how you are doing but is a polite greeting.
Consider how invasive it would feel if a stranger or even a friend said, “Tell me how your day is going.” Instead, it is more inviting of conversation to simply ask, “How are you doing?” As a legitimate question, “How are you doing?” invites conversation rather than demands.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
A helpful trick is to make your question an indirect one. Adding these little tags can make a potentially rude question polite (source). Consider these:
- May I ask
- Could you tell me
- I wonder if you could help me with
- Do you know
- Is it possible to
- Would you
“How are you doing?” is a polite question that you can use to ask how a person is faring. However, people most commonly use it as a greeting. A proper response to this greeting is to say something like, “I’m fine; how are you?”