Saying ‘how are you?’ in German
In Germany, it is polite to ask someone about their state of well-being (Befinden). The question ‘how are you?’ usually follows the initial greeting.
When asked ‘how are you?’, Germans usually give genuine answers. Instead of saying ‘I’m fine’, which is common in English, someone may tell you about their latest problems!
Formal vs informal speech
In Germany, you address your interlocutor either with the formal ‘Sie‘ or the informal ‘du‘, both meaning ‘you’ (singular).
Generally speaking, ‘du‘ is used for children and ‘Sie‘ is used for adults. However, Germans also address their friends and relatives with the informal ‘du‘.
Never address someone you don’t know using ‘du‘. For Germans, this is interpreted as a lack of respect and viewed as very bad-mannered.
Saying ‘Sie‘ to an adult is not static. Someone may offer you to say ‘du‘ to them, and from then on, you use the informal ‘du‘ with them. Usually, when a person offers you to address them with ‘du‘, you also respond by offering them to say ‘du‘ to you.
The formal ‘how are you?’ in German
Wie geht es Ihnen?
How are you?
Settings in which this sentence is used are usually formal, for example at a workplace or in a bank.
Note: ‘Wie geht es Ihnen?‘ can be both singular or plural.
The informal ‘how are you?’
Wie geht es dir?
How are you?
This is used with someone you are close to or someone who has previously offered you to say ‘du‘ to them.
You probably noticed that the sentences use ‘dir‘ and ‘Ihnen‘, the dative cases of ‘du‘ and ‘Sie‘. You will learn about the dative case and other cases in more advanced lessons.
Wie geht es euch?
How are you (plural)?
This is used when you address more than one person that you know well.
Let’s explore some more ways of informally saying ‘how are you?’ in German:
How’s it going?
(Ist) alles gut?
(Is) everything well?
(Ist) alles okay?
(Is) everything okay?
Was ist los?
You ask ‘Was ist los?’ when you suspect that someone is not feeling well.
Was geht (ab)?
This expression is German slang and is usually used among teenagers.
Was macht die Familie / die Arbeit?
How is your family/work?
‘Na?‘ is a word without a direct translation. It could be translated as something close to ‘so?’ in English and is usually used with very close friends, almost like a greeting.
While ‘und‘ simply means ‘and?’, it is often used in conversations, to show interest in a dialogue and ask for details. It is almost like asking ‘what happened next?’.
How to answer ‘how are you?’ in German
Here are some of the most common forms of answering to ‘how are you?’ in German:
Mir geht es gut.
Es geht. / Geht so.
(Mir geht es) nicht so gut.
(I am) not so well.
Mir geht es schlecht.
I’m not well.
Watch out! Don’t say ‘Ich bin gut.’ This is a direct translation of ‘I’m good’, but in German, it means that you’re good at something, not that you’re feeling fine.
More ways of answering to ‘Wie geht’s dir?’ and ‘Wie geht’s Ihnen?’
Thanks, I’m fine.
Couldn’t be better.
… and you?
Saying ‘I’m good, and you?‘ is just as normal in German as it is in English. However, you still have to use the German dative:
… und dir?
… and you?
The formal version is, of course:
… und Ihnen?
… and you?
Let’s imagine … a conversation in German!
Let’s imagine a simple conversation in German, which could happen when you meet someone you know on the street.
Oh hi, Tom.
Na, wie geht’s dir?
Mir geht’s gut, und dir?
Auch gut. Was macht die Familie?
Alles super, danke!
Okay, dann bis bald. Tschüss!
German is easy
You see, enquiring how someone is doing in German is relatively easy. Just remember to differentiate between the formal and informal versions, depending on who you are talking to.
Have you already learnt how to say hello and goodbye in German? It is just as easy and won’t take long!