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When someone asks you "How are you?" the expected or usual reply (I assume) would be "I'm fine" "Not bad" "As usual" etc. Instead, is it okay to give a more specific and honest reply of your current condition i.e. "I'm angry" "I'm hungry" "I'm thirsty",etc. ?

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  • "How are you?" is largely rhetorical in idiomatic English. Do not respond with an honest description of your current condition. Do not respond, for instance: "I'm relatively well except for my acne and flatulence." Instead, respond with the expected "I'm fine; and you?" The sole exception is that, if you and your questioner both speak Yiddish, it is acceptable to respond: "Don't ask." Jul 10, 2017 at 8:12
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    Context plays a role here. If it's someone you are extremely close to, feel free to reply I'm angry, I'm hungry or however else you're feeling. Likewise if the question is coming from someone who genuinely seems to care or who has a responsibility to care (such as a therapist or doctor). But to the cashier at the till, just say I'm fine, I'm good or something along that line.
    – Phil14
    Jul 10, 2017 at 8:29

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Yes, that's fine to do in informal situations, such as speaking to a friend, but it sounds a little bit weird and informal in formal situations. The normal

How are you?

I'm fine(, thank you). / Not bad.

is more of a conversation starter than an actual question, for example it is used in formal settings (e.g. interviews, meetings) to start a more important and serious topic:

Interviewer: Welcome. How are you today?

Interviewee: I'm fine, thank you.

Interviewer: So, {insert name here}, what are your thoughts on {topic X}?

Saying something that isn't the normal reply in such a place derails the purpose of the "How are you" in that sort of situation, and seems informal and "out-of-touch" if you do say it.

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  • Well, you can answer, "I'm feeling hungry/thirsty" to "How are you?" Nobody says you can't. Nov 21, 2017 at 9:56
  • @SovereignSun Again, in an informal situation you can obviously say that (e.g. to a close friend or a family member), but not in a formal situation. The use of the phrase “How are you?” is more or less of an “unspoken formality” in English, and not an actual question.
    – Qwerp-Derp
    Nov 21, 2017 at 11:19

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