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Real World English – Greetings

Real World English

Welcome to the sixth in this series of posts on Real World English by Ed Pegg. In this series of videos and blog posts we are looking at how words are used in context around the world and how differences in usage in different countries and cultural contexts can cause misunderstanding. We look at differences between US and British English, some common expressions in other English speaking countries and also give you an understanding of the complex topic of pragmatics – how language is used in context. In the sixth video Ed looks at the different ways of greeting people.


When you meet someone for the first time, what do you say? There isn’t an easy answer to this question as there are lots of possible options. You could say, ‘Hi’, ‘Hello’, ‘How do you do?’ or even ‘What’s up?’ There are also many more alternatives to choose from: you can see some of them in the panel here and the associated thesaurus entry here.

Which greeting you choose depends largely on the situation, how well you know the person you’re meeting and your personal preference.

In general, ‘Hi’ is quite an informal, friendly introduction, often followed by the person’s name or ‘there’, such as ‘Hi Chris’ or ‘Hi there’. ‘How do you do?’, on the other hand, is very formal and best used when you don’t know the person at all or are meeting them in an official situation.

In a business English context, you probably want to be somewhere in the middle, at least until you know each other better. Hello is neutral and versatile – you can say it to anyone you meet. It’s also popular in writing, such as email, where Hiya, Hey, and Howdy are often too casual.

When you write formally to someone for the first time, Dear followed by a name is a good approach. Things may become more relaxed after that, and you can switch to something less formal.

A general rule in email is ‘the receiver’s right to choose’. This means that when you write to someone the first time, choose quite a formal introduction, such as ‘Dear Mr Jones’ or ‘Dear Peter’, then copy the greeting they choose in their reply. If they reply, ‘Dear Ed’, use ‘Dear Peter’ in your next email but if they use ‘Hi Ed’, it’s normally okay to copy them in the next email, using ‘Hi Peter’.

Another way to greet someone is with Good morning, Good afternoon, or Good evening, depending on the time of day. Dropping the word Good makes it much more casual, and with intonation you can make it as friendly – or as grumpy! – as you like.

Other greetings are popular in different countries. Howzit is popular in informal South African English and British people sometimes say ‘all right’ to mean hello. And of course, people in the US might ask you ‘What’s up?’, which can mean ‘Hello’ or ‘How are you?’

I hope you are enjoying learning about English in the real world and I look forward to seeing you next time. You can catch up on the previous videos and posts, and you can follow my series of monthly blog posts on this topic using the tag realworldenglish.

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Ed Pegg

1 Comment

  • It was a pleasure to be Ed Pegg’ student in London.

    He is a smart and funny teacher!

    And this is all we need to jump into the english world!

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