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Suppose that somebody greets you, and asks "How are you?" You answer with "I am well, thank you. And you?" Should an answer be expected?

I know that who answers could say "I am well too." even if it is not true, but would not answering be understood negatively?

If it would happen to me, and I don't hear any answer to my "I am well, thank you. And you?" I would think I have not spoken loudly enough to be understood, and I would probably repeat what I said.

  • This has practically nothing to do with language qua language, and almost everything to do with social ritual. At some point the phatic stroking has to end, and different folks will end it at different points; so repeating what you said would be a mildly hostile rejection of your interlocutor's decision to terminate. – StoneyB Mar 8 '13 at 18:29
  • Actually, it was me who first asked "How are you?" and who should have answered to "And you?" The second paragraph just says that if I would have said "I am well, thank you. And you?" without getting an answer, I would have thought my English was not that good, or who greeted me didn't hear what I said. I don't get your other part; do you meant that I could avoid answering to who asks me "How are you?" Is that normal? – kiamlaluno Mar 8 '13 at 23:48
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I would expect an answer, although I wouldn't expect more than a polite "Fine, thanks" or similar.

I think most English speakers would answer with something, but the question is usually out of politeness and a full answer isn't usually expected. Unless you're particularly close, they probably wouldn't give a long-winded explanation, in the same way you first answered “I am well, thank you. And you?”

If they don't answer, I wouldn't really worry about it as it's usually a courtesy to the other person, and I'd just continue the conversation as normal.


An exception: My mum once told me she went to visit the doctor. He asked: "Hello, how are you?" She answered: "Fine, thanks." Then after a moment realised it wasn't just a polite question and said: "Oh, are you really asking? Well, I... [the reason for visiting the doctor]".

  • If an Italian doctor would ask "How are you?" I would take it as a polite question, for which I would give a polite answer. If the doctor would want to know why I took an appointment, he should ask me "What takes you here?" or something similar. – kiamlaluno Mar 8 '13 at 23:51

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