Meaning of How have you been?

How have you been? – Meaning, How to Reply

In our everyday life, we are often if not always asked the question, “How have you been?” In different circumstances, we are expected to answer differently. And sometimes we tend to hesitate or answer very casually. It usually puts up a bad show. In order to avoid such encounters, it is necessary for us to know the meaning of this question and ways to respond to it. 

This question is one of those generic phrases which you will get asked time and time again. You don’t just want to say, I’m fine or I’m good. They are fairly basic. We have jotted down some more advanced, interesting, and creative ways to answer “How have you been?” so that you have an expanded vocabulary and can reply with something more different.

What Does “How have you been?” Really Mean?

“How have you been” is a frequently asked question from native English speakers. It’s about asking what you’ve done and how your life has been from a particular point in time. Perhaps you are asking how you have spent since you finally saw each other. Or since your last call. You can see that it is used interchangeably with “How are you?”, But the responses here, are supposed to be a little different.

In order to answer this question, let’s understand when people actually ask it. There are two things to keep in mind to get started. First, you should only ask this question if you have met someone before. Second, ask only if you haven’t met each other for a period of time (for example a week or more).
Most importantly, the questions should not be asked to the people you just met, or to the people you saw yesterday. The question focuses on the chunks of time that have passed since you actually saw the person.

Understanding and Responding to Variations

There may be a lot of different ways of asking the question, “How have you been?” Therefore, it is also important for us to know how to variate our responses based on the question. Here, we will be focusing more on grammar and fluency rather than our vocabulary.
Starting off, this question is not only focused on knowing how ‘we are as an individual. It can also be asked focusing on particular spheres of our life. For example, “How has work been?” Now, this question in itself can have its own alternatives.

For example, “How is work going” or “How has work been going?” Note that you have to answer the questions in a similar way to how they have been asked. We need to keep in mind that the words used in our answer need to be similar to those asked in the question. For instance, you can reply to, “How has work been?” with, “Work has been great. Thank you for asking.” And similarly, you can respond to, “How is work going?” with “Work is going great. Thank you for asking.” The change here is very minor but using words such as “been” and “going” in relevance to the question makes a big difference in how your language fluency and understanding can come off to the other person.

Some Tips to Consider

  1. This question does not always mean what you think it means- It is not always necessary to reply to how are you with how you are. Venting out about how you actually feel to another person, even though they didn’t want the literal answer can be quite embarrassing. Telling the person everything should not be your priority. In this article, you will learn all about how to answer this very common and important question and sound more advanced. 
  1. Common Mistakes- We are all socially programmed to answer to “How have you been?” with a very generic, “I’m fine, you?” This usually makes you seem less interested in the conversation which puts up a bad front. “I’m good”, “I’m fine” and “I’m well” are pretty overused and boring. It is important to know some alternate responses to come off as professional and potentially, more impressive and intriguing. 
  1. Easy Responses- Adding “pretty” before the adjective might seem like a slight change but it makes a big difference. You can say, “I’m pretty good” or “I’m pretty well”. ‘Pretty’ in this case means ‘fairly’. You can also add “quite” before an adjective to make your statement sound more formal. And in order to emphasize how you are, you can add “really” before your adjective. 
  1. Interesting Responses- To avoid pretty basic replies, here are some more interesting ways to respond to “How have you been?” Statements that are formal and gracious always leave a positive impression. For example, “I have never been better” which means you are truly great, or “So far, so good!”. Another one would be, “Can’t complain!”. 
  1. Modulate Your Tone- It is important to watch your tone while responding to someone. The outcome of your answer, whether sarcastic, happy, or neutral, depends entirely on the tone of your voice. So, make sure that it is in your control at all times so that you can send just the message you want. 
  1. Don’t Hesitate to be Lively- It is not always necessary for you to be extremely formal or casual. Sometimes a little charm of yours is also appreciated. You can always add a little humor or sarcasm in your response in order to lift the moods of others around you. But make sure to judge the atmosphere around you and choose your tone accordingly. 

Alternate Responses to ‘OK’

What do you say if you are neither good nor bad? Don’t worry, we have different responses to answer to “How have you been?” when you are just feeling “OK.”
Firstly, you can indicate your mood by only addressing two simple words, “So so.” This is a very casual yet efficient way of letting someone know that you could be better but you aren’t doing so bad as well.
The next one could be, “Not so bad.” This again depends on the tone of voice. If you want to sound cheery, it would indicate that you are doing good, but if you were to say it in a more neutral tone, it would indicate your mood being ‘moderate’ or ‘fair.’
Another one is, “Could be better.” This is a great response to show that you are doing alright quite frankly.
If everything is average, you can always say, “Same old, same old!”
The last one is “Good enough.” This one is really efficient as you don’t have to forcefully modulate your voice to sound cheerier. This response clearly points towards what you are feeling and doesn’t sound harsh or abrupt. Responding to this statement also tends to neutralize the atmosphere as it isn’t very attention-seeking.

Points to Note to Sound More Native while Answering the Question

To make you sound more fluent and native, we have some extra notes for you to respond to this question.
You can always ask the other person how they are doing as well! This is a great way to start a conversation and you can also ask this question back to keep the conversation flowing. This question can also be tossed into a conversation with someone you haven’t seen or spoken to for a while.
For example: – “My schedule has been really hectic lately. What about you? What have you been up to?” or “I have been quite great actually! How have you been?”


Responding to generic questions can put us in a dilemma or confusion sometimes. But, we don’t want to be answering generically. Therefore, learning new ways of replying to questions that are asked almost every day is a great tool to expand your vocabulary and sound more fluent, professional, and native. These unique ways to respond to “How have you been?” will help you carry the conversation forward and would leave a positive impression. 

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What do I do when someone asks me how I have been but I am too busy to have a conversation with them?

A lot of times we are put in situations when someone tries to initiate a conversation with us but we are too busy to partake in it. We can always use positive statements which convey how preoccupied we are, to the other person clearly. We can go with statements like, “I am snowed under.” which means you have been given/doing too much work. Or, “Just busy with work. But I’m keeping up. How about you?” These statements seem basic but they help a lot with such situations and the other person gets your message loud and clear and understands that they should let you be. 

  1. How do I respond to this question in my workplace when I am not feeling good?

When you are working or in any formal environment, you should understand that the person asking you this expects a formal reply as it adheres to the atmosphere. It is important for you to reply with something professional. Usually, in situations like this, you should modulate your answer judging from who has asked you this question. If it is your colleagues, then you can reply with, “I’ve been better.” Or “I could use a break. But I’m still going.” These replies are laid-back yet professional but the responses should be different if someone senior to you asks about your well-being. You should refrain from replying with casual statements and stick to professionalism. For example, “I have been fine Thanks for asking. How have you been?” These are some responses that you have to keep in mind while replying to people of different positions in your workplace. 

  1. What is the difference between “How are you?” and “How have you been?”

Some people have a very common misconception in interpreting “How have you been?” as “How are you?” But this is wrong, as both of them have a very slight difference and the responses for both the questions also vary. When somebody asks you how you are, they are referring to how you are doing in the present or how you are doing right now. However, when someone asks you how you have been, they are referring to you since they last saw you. This question is not to be asked if you have seen someone recently. So, “How have you been?” refers to a longer time period whereas, “How are you?” refers to the present. Therefore, they are not the same question.

  1. What time period is long enough to ask someone how they have been?

Note that if you have met someone very recently, that is, yesterday or even a week ago, you should refrain from asking this question as your last encounter was too recent and the time period between those encounters was very limited. However, this question can be asked anytime after 2 weeks of seeing someone. This is because when you ask someone about how they have been, they have a particular time period to look back to and they can respond to you with how they feel or what they have been up to. Whereas, asking someone how they have been after a day or two becomes very awkward as you have met them in the recent past and nothing fresher strikes the mind at this point. 

  1. How do I explain how I have been, to someone without making my response sound boring and lengthy?

We are always asked this question and sometimes we have a lot to share with the other person. But, unless the occasion is such, that both of you can have long conversations, you should hold back from replying with longs stories. Usually, when you are not in an environment where you can sit back and chat with someone, and they ask you this question, they usually expect a brief and short reply from you. But, if you think that a certain piece of information is very important for you to share, you can always reply with a positive adjective and follow by highlighting the important instance. But make sure you wrap it up in a statement or two.  Also, it is important for you to judge how the person has asked you the question and whether they want to hear your whole story or not. 

Meaning of How have you been?

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