Why at the moment we greet somebody for the first time we say?:

How do you do?

And the another person replies:

How do you do?

  • 3
    We don't always say that. In fact, that is probably well down on the list of things we actually do say. "How do you do" is rather formal and stilted in this day and age.
    – Robusto
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 2:25

2 Answers 2


"How do you do?" is technically a question, but really, it's just an expression. One person says, "How do you do?", and the other person does not answer, because no answer is needed.

If you prefer, you can answer, but you have to say, "Very well, thank you, and you?". You aren't allowed to launch into an explanation of exactly how well you are or are not doing and why.

This is less about English as a language than manners in the English-speaking world.

  • 1
    That's wrong. "How do you do" is not a question, it's a statement. A formal way of saying hello. I'd say it is old-fashioned. If somebody says How do you do to you, you should reply How do you do. Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 5:42
  • 2
    It's a very odd statement, @SovereignSun, given that perhaps half the time it is "stated", it is (mysteriously) answered. Americans nowadays tend to say "How are you doing?" rather than "How do you do?", but the nature of the sentence remains the same. Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 5:46
  • 3
    @SovereignSun - Grammatically, it is certainly a question. Semantically, it's just a stock phrase, not really a question that we expect an answer to.
    – stangdon
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 14:55

"How do you do?" a formal greeting for someone that you have not met before. It's not a question but a fixed expression. It was once commonplace, especially among the English upper classes. It's not a question asking about someone's health.

If somebody says "How do you do?" to you, the polite way to reply is "How do you do?". It is not meant as a question and an answer is not expected.

Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, 1892

  • Lord Darlington: How do you do, Lady Windermere?
  • Lady Windermere: How do you do, Lord Darlington?

This is traditionally British formal English. Stilted and old-fashioned nowadays.

Sometimes people reply with "Hello" or "Pleased to meet you".

Interesting notes:

  • In the 16-18 centuries there was a phrase in use "How do you?" that is an equivalent of our present day "How are you?".

  • An old-fashioned phrase "How do you do" means "a difficult, worrying, and unpleasant situation"

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .