A commonly observed difference between German speakers and English speakers is the way they typically greet each other. Newcomers to learning German often find themselves surprised when Germans give a long reply to a seemingly simple question: “How are you?”.
Why? Because this question doesn’t always require an honest answer in English-speaking cultures. Instead, it’s often used simply as a means of greeting. But ask this question in German, and it’s bound to be considered with more weight.
To help you avoid confusing situations in the future, we’ve compiled some common ways of asking “How are you doing?” in German. In this article, we’ll also review how to reply when someone asks you, “Wie geht’s?” (“How’s it going?”) in German.
- Asking a German “How are you?”: Expect a reply
- How to ask someone “How are you doing?” in German
- How to reply to “How are you doing?” in German
Asking a German “How are you?”: Expect a reply
If you’re coming from an English-speaking country, you might be confused by how Germans react to a simple “How are you?”.
In Germany, “How are you?” is typically met with an honest (and, in some cases, long) answer. So, don’t be surprised if you casually ask this question and someone responds with the details of their life story.
The explanation for this cultural difference is simple: Germany is not known for having a big small-talk culture. Many Germans have no interest in talking just for the sake of talking, and might therefore react differently to some questions than you’re used to.
The bottom line is, if you ask a German “How are you?”, they will probably think that you actually want to know. As honesty is valued highly in German culture, you might get an answer that contains too much information for your taste.
And in return, many Germans will expect you to give an actual answer to “How are you?”, as well.
How to ask someone “How are you doing?” in German
There is more than one way to ask someone how they’re doing in German. To prepare you for the question, we’ve listed the most common ways below. As context matters, we’ve included a short explanation for each variation.
|Wie geht’s dir?||This form of the question applies in informal situations. “Dir” implies that you know the person already and that you are on friendly terms.|
|Wie geht’s?||The short form of “Wie geht’s dir?”.|
|Wie geht’s Ihnen?||The polite form of “Wie geht’s dir?”. “Ihnen” implies that you are in a professional setting, or that you don’t know the person very well.|
|Wie geht’s euch?||Used to address a group of people.|
|Alles gut?||Translates to “Everything alright?” and is used in more informal settings.|
|Alles klar?||Often used instead of “Alles gut?”|
|Wie läuft’s?||Loosely translates to “How are things with you?”|
|Was geht?||Loosely translates to “What’s up?” and is used between friends.|
|Na?||“Na?” is a German favorite and is often used instead of “Wie geht’s?”.|
How to reply to “How are you?” in German
There are just as many answers to “How are you?” as there are variations of this question in German. To help you come up with a fitting answer in every setting, we’ve compiled the most important phrases and when they can be used.
|German||English||When to use it|
|Gut, danke.||“Good, thanks.”||Short and sweet. You can use it in informal and formal settings.|
|Mir geht’s gut, und dir/Ihnen?||“I’m good, how are you?”||Asking back is considered polite. Use dir if you’re addressing friends, and Ihnen if you’re talking to your boss.|
|Es geht so.||“It’s going so-so.”||This answer is slightly negative and implies that something’s not going that well.|
|Super!/Prima!/Großartig!||“Amazing!”||You’re having a great day.|
|Nicht gut.||“Not good.”||Honesty among friends is appreciated, whereas keeping your problems to yourself is considered professional when you’re at work and in other formal settings.|
|Mir ging’s schon mal besser.||“I’ve had better days.”||Same as above. Prepare yourself for further questions.|
|Ich kann mich nicht beklagen.||“I can’t complain.”||You’re doing fine.|
|Es könnte schlimmer sein.||“It could be worse.”||This phrase is often used jokingly and mostly among people who know each other well.|
|Mir ging es nie besser.||“It’s never been better.”||You’ll seldomly hear this one because most Germans try to avoid exaggerations. Also, as the German saying goes, Du sollst den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben! (“Never praise the day before it’s actually over!”).|
Responding to “How are you?” in German: Conversation starters
The cliché that Germans can’t deal with small talk still rings true in many cases. While an English “How are you?” can be used as a greeting and doesn’t necessarily require an answer, this question isn’t typically used as a way to say hello in German.
And remember: depending on the situation, the answer can be long or quite short. While you would keep it simple in a formal setting and longer when you’re talking with a friend over a cup of coffee, it’s always considered polite to ask “Wie geht’s dir?” back and show you’re interested.