Basic German: “How Are You?”
Getting your hellos and goodbyes straight in German is a matter of keeping in mind how well you know someone. If you’re on formal terms — in other words, if you’re addressing one or more people with Sie (zee) (you, formal) — then you have one set of expressions. When you’re on du (dooh) (you, informal) terms of address, you go with the more informal expressions.
Asking “Wie geht es Ihnen?”
The next step after greeting someone in German is asking the question How are you? Whether you use the formal or the informal version of the question depends on whom you’re talking to. Sound complicated? Well, figuring out which form to use is easier than you may think.
The following three versions of How are you? use three dative-case pronouns that represent you. Ihnen (een-en) is the dative equivalent of Sie, dir (deer) represents du, and euch (oyH) stands in for ihr. Here’s a breakdown of what to use when:
Wie geht es Ihnen? (vee geyt ês een-en?) (How are you?) This is the formal version.
Wie geht es dir? (vee geyt ês deer?) (How are you?) This is the informal, singular version.
Wie geht’s? (vee geyts?) (How’s it going?) When you know someone really well, you can use this casual question.
Wie geht es euch? (vee geyt ês oyH?) (How are you?) Use this when talking to several people informally.
Greetings and introductions are often accompanied by some form of bodily contact. In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, hand-shaking is the most common form of bodily contact during greetings and introductions.
Female friends may kiss each other on the cheek or give each other a hug. Men usually don’t kiss or hug each other, although they may greet a woman friend with a hug (and a kiss). You may notice that people in Europe often stand closer to you than you’re used to, for example, in stores, on the bus or subway, or during conversations with you.
Giving a response to “Wie geht es Ihnen?”
In English, the question How are you? is often just a way of saying hello, and no one raises an eyebrow if you don’t answer. In German, however, a reply is customary. Germans expect a reply because for the German speaker, asking “Wie geht es Ihnen?” isn’t the same as a casual hello but rather is a means of showing genuine interest in someone. The following are acceptable answers to the question Wie geht es Ihnen? (How are you?):
Danke, gut. (dân-ke, gooht.) (Thanks, I’m fine.) or Gut, danke. (gooht, dân-ke.) (Fine, thanks.)
Sehr gut. (zeyr gooht.) (Very good.)
Ganz gut. (gânts gooht.) (Really good.)
Es geht. (ês geyt.) (So, so.) This German expression actually means it goes.
Nicht so gut. (niHt zoh gooht.) (Not so good.)
As in English, you would usually accompany your reply with the question And (how are) you? Here’s the formal version:
Und Ihnen? (oont een-en?) (And you?)
Here’s how to pose the question informally:
Und dir? (oont deer?) (And you?) (singular, informal you)
Und euch? (oont oyH?) (And you?) (plural, informal you)