Greetings in American English


Sample Greetings

The following role-played dialogues provide various examples of greetings among different speakers of English in various social situations. These passages and examples are adapted from Félix-Brasdefer (2018). These interactions occurred in fast-paced speech, and utterances often overlapped.

  • Greeting between two American male college students:
    The audio for this interaction can be accessed via https://pragmatics.indiana.edu/teaching/compliments.html
    Scroll down to "Complimenting in US English."
    Tyler: Hey Ben, what's going on?
    Ben: Hey, hey, good to see you.
    Tyler: What['ve] you been doin'?
    Ben: Long time no see.
    Tyler: Wow, you got a nice car here…
  • Greeting between a female and male speaker:
    Erin: Hey Paul. How's it going?

    Paul: Hey, Erin. How are you?
    Erin: I'm fantastic.
    Paul: I haven't seen you in a long time. Where you been?
    Erin: I've just been working, going to class.
    Paul: Oh good, good…
  • Greeting between two American male college students:
    The audio for this interaction can be accessed via https://pragmatics.indiana.edu/speechacts/refusals.html
    Scroll down to "Declining a US Invitation"
    Ben: Hey Tyler, how's it goin'?
    Tyler: Dude, what's happening? It's been forever.
    Ben: Oh man, no kiddin', no kiddin'. I'm so glad I saw you man because…
  • Greeting between two female speakers:
    Terri: Hi, Genevieve. How you doing?
    Genevieve: Good. How are you?
    Terri: Good – um, … I don't know if you know that next Friday's my birthday…

Greeting Strategies

Viewing greetings as linguistic routines guided by politeness norms, an adaptation of Brown and Levinson's (1987) model of politeness can be useful. The following passages and examples are adapted from Wei (2010, p. 59).

  • For instance, a bald on record strategy can be used when initiating a conversation between close family, friends, or colleagues, or in an urgent situation without a greeting. For this strategy, there is no apparent or literal greeting used. For example, the dialogue below reflects an exchange between two people who are meeting, yet in a hurry.

            A: Hey, we're late.
            B: Let's hurry.

  • A strategy addressing negative face can be used to respect the hearer's desire not to be imposed upon, thus protecting his/her negative face. For instance, the expression below can be used to greet someone you have not met.

            A: Excuse me, are you Professor Jones?
            B: Yes.
            A: Oh, hello, Professor Jones.

  • On the other hand, a strategy addressing positive face can be used to enhance the hearer's desire to be appreciated, or positive face. For example, the greeting below expresses flattery and is meant to please the hearer.

            A: I've heard a lot about you.

  • Furthermore, off-record strategies can be used among close friends to establish or increase solidarity through humor, teasing, or other ways that may seem impolite on the surface, addressing the mutual positive face. For instance, the dialogue below reflects a joking greeting between friends.

            A: Still alive?
            B: Alive and kicking.

  • Finally, neutral strategies can be used when one prefers to avoid making greetings, a potentially face-threatening act. This could consist of a gesture, cough, or some other noise to get the hearer's attention.



Interactional Greeting Patterns in American English

Opening Greetings

Most opening greetings in American English begin with either a greeting form such as Hi, Hello, and Hey or a question form like How are you? After receiving the initial greeting, the hearer typically responds with a similar greeting form or question form.

According to a study conducted in a U.S. context (Kakiuch, (2005a, p. 67), greeting interactions that consisted of only one turn between the speakers were most common (67%), such as a greeting-greeting or greeting-question. Examples of opening greeting exchanges are outlined below.

A: Hi.
B: Hi.

One-and-a-half-turn sequences were the next most common (18%).

A: Hey, how are you?
B: OK. You?
A: Good.

Two-turn patterns were less common (13%), whereas two-and-a-half-turn patterns were even rarer (2%).

A: Hi, Sarah.
B: Hi. How are you?
A: How have you been?
B: Great. How are you?
A: Hi.
B: Hi, Mike.
A: How are you?
B: I'm OK. How are you?
A: I'm OK.

In the same study (Kakiuchi, 2005a, p. 67), certain forms tended to be used more frequently than others when beginning a greeting:

  • Greeting-initiated forms including Hi, Hey, Hello, (Good) morning, and Natalie! [name only](77%).
    • Greeting-greeting forms are most common in this category (41%).
  • Question-initiated forms including How are you, How (are) you (ya) doing, What's up,and How's it goin'(18%).
  • Non-verbal greetings such as a wave or smile (5%).

In short, the most common patterns included greeting-greeting and question-answer. Thus, these two interactional patterns may form the foundation of greeting exchanges in American English, although there can be violations of these patterns such as a question-greeting or question-no answer pattern.

A: How are you?
B: Hey.
A: Hi.
B: What's up?
[no answer]

The latter form can be common in situations in which the speakers are passing by or busy with another task. For such transitory situations, it is often not considered impolite to not respond to a question such as How are you, providing further evidence to support the assumption that greetings are not always meant to be interpreted literally.

With respect to contextual variables, the greeting-greeting pattern tended to be preferred among strangers, whereas closer acquaintances incorporated more strategies such as non-verbal greetings and question-form greetings (Kakiuchi, 2005a, p. 67)


Variation among Greetings in American English

Names and Titles

Names are often used in opening greeting sequences in American English, typically following the greeting expression. According to Kakiuchi (2005a, p. 69):

  • Speakers included the conversation partner's name 45% of the time.
  • Receivers included the conversation partner's name 22% of the time.

A: Hi, Meghan.
B: Hey, Kristin.


Speaker Expressions

Also in Kakiuchi (2005a, p. 70-71), the main strategies used by speakers to initiate greetings included greeting-initiated forms (77%), question-initiated forms (18%), and non-verbal forms (5%).

Speaker expressions

Greeting-initiated forms  

Question-initiated forms

Hi (25%)

How are you? (45%)

Hey (24%)

How (are) you/ya doing? (36%)

Hello (11%)

What's up? (9%)

(Good) Morning (9%)

How's it goin'? (9%)

Names only (2%)

 

Greeting-initiated forms:

  • The expression Hi tended to be used similarly across genders, ages, and status groups.
  • The expression Hey was preferred by individuals in their 20s and 30s.
  • The expression Good morning was typically used among people of higher status or in more formal situations.

Question-initiated forms:

  • The question How are you tended to not be uttered between strangers, possibly due to the academic context of the particular study.

Non-verbal forms:

  • Non-verbal greetings tended to be used among younger individuals who were close acquaintances. 

 

Receiver Expressions

In Kakiuchi (2005a, pp. 71-72), after a greeting was initiated, the most common strategies used by receivers included greeting forms (53%), question forms (28%), answer forms (8%), as well as non-verbal forms (10%).

Receiver expressions

Greeting forms

Question forms

Answer forms

Hi (59%)

How are you? (53%)

(Pretty) good (60%)

Hey (16%)

How (are) you/ya doing? (18%)

Ok (20%)

Hello (19%)

What's up? (24%)

Literal answer(20%)

(Good) Morning (6%)

How's it goin'? (6%)

 

Greeting forms:

  • The receiver of a greeting tended to model similar expressions used by the speaker, including Hi, Hey, Hello, and (Good) morning.
  • The expression Hi was common among individuals who were not strangers.
  • The expression Hey was more frequent among younger individuals when interacting with a close acquaintance.
  • The expression (Good) morning tended to be used by individuals of higher status among close or casual contacts.  

Question forms:

  • Again, the receiver often modeled the expression used by the speaker.
  • The expression How are you? was most commonly used, and was often preceded by a short greeting such as Hi, Hey, or Hello.
  • The expressions What's up? and How's it goin'? were typically used by younger individuals among close contacts.

Answer forms:

  • The expression (Pretty) good tended to be used by younger individuals interacting with casual acquaintances.
  • The expression OK along with a literal answer were used less frequently. 

Non-verbal forms:

  • Non-verbal greetings tended to be used less frequently by receivers, but were observed among close and casual acquaintances.

 

[Research Note:]
The data from Kakiuchi (2005a) come from observations of 60 sets of greetings that occurred naturally in spontaneous speech among native speakers of American English.

 

 

References

Brown, P. & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Félix-Brasdefer, J. César. (2018). Pragmatics and discourse at Indiana University. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University. Retrieved from https://pragmatics.indiana.edu

Kakiuchi, Y. (2005a). Greetings in English: Naturalistic speech versus textbook
speech. In D. Tatsuki (Ed.), Pragmatics in Language Learning, Theory, and Practice (pp. 61–85). Tokyo: The Japanese Association for Language Teaching, Pragmatics Special Interest Group.

Kakiuchi, Y. (2005b). Language variation analysis. In D. Tatsuki (Ed.), Pragmatics in language learning, theory, and practice (pp. 157-160). Tokyo: The Japan Association for Language Teaching Pragmatics Special Interest Group.

Wei, L. (2010). The functions and use of greetings. Canadian Social Science, 6(4),
56-62.

 

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