Greeting - How are you? good or fine?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by epistolario, Jul 20, 2007.

  1. epistolario

    epistolario Senior Member

    How are you today?

    a) Fine, thank you./Fine. How about you?
    b) Good. How about you?

    I heard someone (a non-native) say that A is incorrect, and that it should be B as that is how native English-speakers answer that question. Do you agree?
  2. Ecossaise Senior Member

    All are colloquial - there is no right or wrong. I always say Fine, thank you.
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    For more links on greetings, look up greetings in the WordReference dictionary.
    Greeting - How are you? I'm good

    "I'm fine," is perfectly OK, as are "Fine, thank you./Fine. How about you?"

    Strictly speaking, "I'm good," refers to your moral condition, not to your health, and is not accepted as a reply to "How are you?" Not so strictly speaking, it is said with such freqency that it is now almost a standard reply.
  4. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    'How are you?' refers to the idea of 'how are you feeling today?' The answer would be an adverb ( = I am feeling well or fine). 'Good' on its own strikes me as sloppy. It is an ajective. Grammatically, it is inappropriate. The question is not: 'What are you?' 'Good, thanks' ( = I am a good person). Or: 'Evil!'

    I believe that to answer 'good' derives from 'to feel good', which is colloquial and perhaps an Americanism. The proper phrase is 'to feel well', as in: 'I don't feel very well today.' In other words, it is bad grammar. As we all know, 'to feel good' is used extensively today, particularly by young people and people working in the media, in my experience.

    PS I have put my tin-hat on as I expect a barrage of abuse further to this post. :D
  5. Trisia

    Trisia mod de viață

    As a non-native, I must say I find the use of "feel good" acceptable only when said by James Brown.

    What Ffrancis said is quite interesting, for at school we've been told exactly the opposite. So I don't understand why James Brandon fears abuse. I think his answer was a good one, and very well-written :D

    EDIT: Of course, I only said that because I know it's the correct way to say it. That does not mean I never answer "I'm good" instead of "Fine, thanks".
    But never "good, thank you". Ugh...
  6. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I fear abuse from trendy native speakers, not from learners of English. The former love to use 'I feel good' while the latter know about English grammar.

    Typical dialogue in the office on Monday morning:

    -Jaaaaaaaaaaane! How are you today?

    -Good, good, thanks.

  7. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    One thing at least is sure: this is not true.

    For the rest, I'm more with the Beatles than with James Brown on this one.
  8. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    How about a few frequently used and typically English responses?

    "How are you?"

    "Oh, not too bad!"
    "Can't complain!"
    "Mustn't grumble!"

    I do get fed up with the set Q & A in English-as-a-foreign-language text books:

    How are you?

    I'm fine, thanks!
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    You'll find many variations on the standard Q&A if you check out the links I posted earlier :)
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I have a friend who always answers "I am well, thank you" when I ask how he is. I mention it because he is the only person of the hundreds of people I know who says this. :) It is correct, however, rather than "good".
  11. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    I know plenty of variations myself, it's just that when I help friends' children with their English homework this seems to be the first phrase that pops up every time in books!
    It would be nice to see a little variation sometimes :)
  12. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Some English people reply "fine thanks" in all situations and no matter how awful they feel and sickly they look. Even on their deathbed. "Mustn't grumble. Could be dead already, you know."
  13. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    There is an increasing tendency for the English to answer "Good" when asked how they are, which I think has gradually crept in (from America)and has never been part of my vocabulary. I would say "Fine thanks" or "Quite well, thank you". On occasions, I tell the questioner the truth about my aches and pains, which always has the desired effect of curtailing the conversation and causing his precipitate departure. To Black Opal's list of non-commital reponses I would add "(I) mustn't complain" which is even more usefully non-commital.
    Incidentally, in British call-in shows on the radio, more and more frequently the guest speakers ask everybody in the studio how they are obviously expecting and receiving an answer, which is a habit also transferred from the States. In the past a greeting such as "Good evening" would suffice.
  14. jonmaz Senior Member


    One can’t be sure about whether Jane had an honourable week-end or a healthy one!

    You shouldn’t get any abuse for your correct assertions but I regret having to report that good is more frequently used than well around this neck of the woods.
  15. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Let's not speculate about Jane's weekend.
  16. Black Opal

    Black Opal Senior Member

    United Kingdom, English/Italian Speaker
    I'd like, if I may, to quote the epitaph that Spike Milligan had engraved on his tombstone:

    "Duirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite" (I told them I was ill)
  17. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    Yeah. "Good" is usually repeated.

    - How are you?

    -Good, good. And you?
  18. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    The polite approach is indeed to enquire and respond with a sweet "and you?". The cool approach, however, is to respond with a mere: "Good, good, thanks" - and proceed to move effortlessly on to the next matter at hand. (Eg: checking one's emails.) Not everyone does it, I hasten to add. :D
  19. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Well, now you know (sort of) two people who respond this way, James. I've used "well" since I was a teenager and you wouldn't believe the number of people who've told me that it sounds much "nicer" than "good" or "fine". That's probably because, despite habit, native-speakers have an innate sense that "good" and "fine" aren't quite right although if you asked, most wouldn't know why.
  20. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    I am a native speaker of American English, and I always say "Fine, thank you." I really don't know why "Good" should be thought an Americanism -- I always think of it as a British thing to say in response to this question!
  21. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I am not 100% sure whether "good" is an Americanism or not, but it sounds American to me...

    I wanted to go back to the grammatical issue, for what it is worth. The answer to "how are you?" ought to be an adverb. In this respect, "fine" would be OK grammatically: the OCD identifies "fine" as both an adverb and an adjective. So, to recap.:

    -Good - Adj only - Not OK
    -Well - Adverb - OK
    -Fine - Adj and adverb - OK
  22. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    Well - Adverb - OK (James Brandon)
    I think you will have to agree that well can also be used as an adjective as in I'm not a well man. In fact, I think it is an adjective in I am quite well too. The question How are you? can produce answers with more obvious adjectives like I'm tired/ exhausted/ sick/ a bit dizzy etc., etc. In You're doing well, which a doctor might say to a convalescent,it would be an adverb. But, the fact that how has an adverbial flavour to it does not necessarily require an adverb in the answer: in most European languages one asks a person's name in a way that literally meansHow are you called? but we Anglophones say What are you called? for the same idea. Not that this in any way affects the discussion.
  23. cfu507

    cfu507 Senior Member

    Back to the question "How are you", would you answer…
    Never been better (or something like that)?
  24. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Obviously, you could answer with a sentence: "(I have) never been better", etc.

    Arrius makes an interesting point. He may be right, but I still have a feeling he is not. He is implying that, because 'well' is also an adj. (which is true, on reflection), both 'well' and 'fine' are both adv. and adj.; this leaves us with one word that is an adj. only (good). Hence, one could argue that any adj. will do, here (cf the use of 'tired', 'happy', etc.). Hence, the use of 'good' would be grammatically acceptable.

    My feeling is that, to the question 'how are you?', the preferred answer - from the point of view of grammar - would be an adverb, because it has to do with a verb, and what qualifies a verb is an adverb. The adj. would come second best. (An adj. qualifies a noun.)

    If the grammatical argument does not stand, there remains the reality that 'good' is frowned upon by most educated speakers as an accepted response. If it is not to do with grammar, it would then be a mere question of usage.

    So, on reflection, the jury is indeed out as to whether it is a question of grammar, or a question of pure convention.

    There is also the issue of 'to be + adj.', which is a case of the verb 'to be' describing a state. I am not sure the reply: 'happy', or 'annoyed', etc., would be deemed completely 'natural' by most native speakers to the question: 'how are you?' 'How are you?' is a general question that carries idiomatic meaning/usage. It belongs to set phrases rather than specific (and 'real') questions.

    Other contributors may want to comment further and may have further insight into the grammatical structure involved to offer.

    PS - The example you give at the end supports my interpretation, not yours, Arrius. In English, 'what are you called?' refers to a noun (i.e. the name of a person), precisely. 'How...?' is used to refer to a question introducing a verb: 'How do you spell your name?' 'How do you pronounce your name?' etc.
  25. mally pense

    mally pense Senior Member

    Cheshire, England
    England, UK English
    Hmmm... looks like we end up with no-one to blame then ;)

    I'm with panjandrum on this one, "I'm good" grates on most of us (slightly) older folk because it does sound like a statement of morality rather than day-to-day well-being, and thus not what would normally be used as a conversation opener - though there is an argument for saying that establishing such things up front could actually be a good thing. However, it's certainly never been a part of British English during my lifetime until recently with younger generations of course. I had assumed this had come over the Atlantic along with replying to "Have you... " type questions with "I do", but perhaps this is not the case. Maybe it has evolved with younger people simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic?

    By the way, am I really the only one here who replies to "How are you today?" with "(I'm) OK thanks, how are you?"? (with the emphasis here being on the use of "OK" rather than the "thanks, how are you" bit)
  26. yak978 New Member

    Spanish - Spain
    I've been wondering the difference between 'fine' and 'good'.
    I know they mean the same in this context, but I'd like to know if 'fine' could be a little weaker than 'good', if possibly 'fine' could mean less good than 'good' itself or if, at the contrary, 'fine' is stronger than a simple 'good', but not as much as a 'very good', for example.

    Thank you.

    << Moderator's note:

    I have joined this with an earlier discussion of this. Please read from the top.

    Cagey >>
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 14, 2011
  27. Kristi888

    Kristi888 Senior Member

    New Jersey
    English USA
    It really depends on the context. Give us some more info or examples.
  28. Tazzler Senior Member

    American English
    I think "fine" is a little weaker than "good" although there might not be any practical distinction. If one has nothing really to complain about then I think "good" is the more usual word. There are other contexts besides as a response to "how are you" in which they are and are not interchangeable.


    Would you like a bag, sir? (You can say both).

    Are you hurt? (I would only use "fine".)
  29. yak978 New Member

    Spanish - Spain
    There is really not a context, because the actual cause i was wondering the difference between those two words is because i heard "How are you? I'm fine" on TV and I started guessing what would be the difference between this word and "good".

    What if someone uses "fine" instead of "good" even when there's supposedly nothing to complain about?
    For example: "He is a fine scout of our nation", when they ask someone about their thoughts on some person.
    Could that mean they are actually subconsciously complaining about how good as a scout he could be, even when they say he is "fine" (Obviously starting with the fact the speaker is a native English speaker)?
  30. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    The answer about the difference in meanings of fine and good depends on whether they are used in response to a greeting or as adjectives describing someone.

    In your original question, you seemed to be asking about a response. If you want to ask about the difference between saying 'he is a fine scout' and 'he is a good scout', you should start another thread. You will get a clearer answer. :)
  31. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    As an answer to "how are you?", "fine" is good enough, if you mean that all is well (and whether you really mean that or not...); as discussed, the use of "good" does not add anything in terms of meaning, and may be rejected on grounds of grammar and/or usage, by educated speakers at any rate.

    At the end of the day, from what I have noticed, it is mostly a generational thing. In London, where I live and work, I hear people in their 20s and 30s use: "I am good, thanks," every day, meaning, "I'm fine, thanks". It is a fad, as it were. A bit like the use of "cool" to refer to everything and anything ("I'll post the letter now, then." "Cool!").

    I don't know about some of the other wrinklies on this forum, but such phrases make me want to puke. Where is the bucket, please, I am not feeling good at all! :(
  32. Hermione Golightly

    Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    British English
    I have some spare sick bags James! I have Fed Exed a few to you.

    It's not quite clear to me if yak is asking about responding to "How are you?"
    If so, I reply Very well thanks or Well enough thanks".

    I never reply "Good" because, like one of the previous posters, to me it means well behaved and blameless. This must be simply a conventional usage, and may well be generational, because I could answer "I feel good/well/fine today", if I thought the person was genuinely interested. Usually they aren't.

    I am quite sure it is an Americanism because it was one of the first differences I noticed when I started meeting Americans regularly nearly 40 years ago. At that time American popular cultural influences in Europe and the UK were virtually nil.

  33. Phil-Olly Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    Belatedly, perhaps, I feel bound to point out that "fine" is an adjective, just like "good".

    So, no matter how much you may dislike "good" I don't really think you can object to it on grammatical grounds if you're prepared to accept "fine".
  34. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    If it is not the grammar, it is usage and, as mentioned, I also believe it is an Americanism that has crept into BE in the past 15 to 20 years, hence is used mostly by younger people. It may become the norm before long.

    Technically, "fine" is also an adverb, in fact, according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary. (Go and have a look.)

    The point is, the question is not, "What are you?" where "what" relates to a noun. Answer: "I am a Dutch national"; "I am a teacher"; "I am a nice person"; "I am a good person" = "I am good".

    The question is, "How are you?", i.e. "how are you feeling (or doing) today?" which relates to a verb, hence the answer would be an adverb. Answer: "I am doing well (or not well, or very well, or fine)".

    There could be a case for arguing that "fine" is used as an adverb, here.

    Cf issue of: "he is quicker than I am" where "quicker" is the comparative of an adjective qualifying a noun or pronoun, as opposed to: "he did it more quickly than I did", where "more quickly" is the comparative of "quickly", which is an adverb qualifying a verb (to do). Hence, "I do it quicker than him" is incorrect, even though it is heard daily...

    Beyond the grammar, there is the issue of accuracy and clarity. "Good" does it in relation to "How are you?" (= I am in a good state or disposition), but I cannot see that it adds anything to "fine" or "well".

    PS I never go out without a couple of sick bags, so no worries there. We need them.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2011
  35. Languagethinkerlover Senior Member

    English-British and U.S.
    I was always told 'fine' was the more proper way of answering 'how are you?'

    'I'm fine, thanks'

    'I'm good' is something I'd more say to a friend. Actually no usually I'd say I'm alright.

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