How have you been?

English pleasantries: Part 2

This article is the second in a series of articles about pleasantries in English.

 

Every week when I visit my psychologist, he greets me with the same greeting the moment I enter his office: “How have you been?” And every time he says this -- “How have you been?” -- I sort of smile to myself. I smile because even though my therapist is German, when he asks me, “How have you been?” he is using the exact correct greeting.

 

Now, why am I telling you this? Because my therapist is nearly the only person in Germany that I interact with that (a) uses the phrase “How have you been?” and (b) uses it correctly.

 

So why is it that German speakers and “How have you been?” don’t really get along? Why is “How have you been?” so scary? And why, when my therapist uses the phrase, is it the exact right one to use?

 

Let’s have a look.

 

How are you?

That’s right...how are you? When someone asks you, “How are you?” they want to know just that -- what your condition is at the moment of speaking. Thus, we answer the person in the present tense: “I’m fine, thank you.” (For more information about the phrase “How are you?” please refer to the first article in this series of two.)

 

How were you yesterday?

Similarly, when someone asks how we were yesterday, we tell them: “Everything was fine yesterday, thank you.” Because yesterday is finished (there can never be another May 26, 2019) we reply with the simple past tense. 

 

OK, so...

 

How have you been?

When someone asks you, “How have you been?” they want to know exactly this: “How has life been for you from the last time I saw you up until this very moment, the moment of our now speaking?”

 

So in a way, the person is asking about the past, yes, but also a little bit about the present, too. “How have you been?” covers a lot of ground.

 

When my psychologist asks me how I have been, he really means, “Chad, how have you been since the last time I saw you?”

 

After he says this, it is then my responsibility to think about how I have been in the week since I last saw him and come up with an overall answer for him, a summing up, if you will.

 

So the conversation between us might sound something like this in the end:

“Hi Chad, please step into my office.”

“Thank you.”

“So, tell me, how have you been?”

“I’ve been pretty good, thanks for asking. Last week was filled with lots of good activities, and this week, so far at least, is going pretty well, too.”

 

Got it? OK, good. So now that we have gotten very well acquainted with “How have you been?” I’m going to ask you a question, just to see if you really got it.

Let’s imagine that two people are meeting each other for the first time. Would it make logical sense for one of them to ask the other, “How have you been?”

 

No! Absolutely not!

If two people are meeting each other for the first time, it would make 0 sense for one of them to ask the other one, “How have you been?” because neither person had ever seen the other before!

 

So there you go: “How have you been?” Learn, live it, love it. I promise, it’s a great tool to add to your English speaking tool belt.

 

 

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Die englische Sprache hat so manche Fallstricke für uns Deutschen. Wie Sie mit der oft im Englischen verwendeten negative Fragestellung  umgehen, lesen Sie hier.

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