The most difficult question to answer: ‘How are you?’ / Nejobtiznejsi americka otazka je ‘How are you?’The most difficult question to answer: 'How are you?' | Czechmatediary
≡ Menu

The most difficult question to answer: ‘How are you?’ / Nejobtiznejsi americka otazka je ‘How are you?’

Even after 12 years of living in the US I still find myself having a hard time answering when people ask me how am I doing. My brain usually comes up with 10 different answers which mill around in there until they all cancel each other out and I end up with no answer. I don’t know why but that question puts such a pressure on me!

Should I just simply say ‘good’ but then what face expression do you use with that? Do you add a tiny bit of sigh to it to let that other person know that you are not completely good (but then that is the negative Czech side coming out in me) or should you just give them a huge grin with it so that there is no doubt that you are doing ‘good’ and then they hopefully leave you alone? Or should you come out with some kind of explanation WHY are you doing SO good? But does that person at that particular moment even care?

I usually either just say ‘good’ and then quickly kick the ball back into their court by asking them how are they doing. If I don’t do that then I usually feel like I owe them an explanation otherwise they will think I am too boring or I am withholding some important information. And that’s where my brain starts to juggle with 10 different answers and usually ends up having a shortage and spits out some random information about my kids (like the baby just got the next tooth). Does anyone has the same problem or is it just me?

The same thing goes for the question “How was your weekend”? First I feel like I was put on the spot (which I am) and second, I can never remember what I did.

So the question is, do I have trouble with those things because my memory does not serve me well or because after all these years I still have not gotten used to these everyday questions?

If someone asks you that question in the Czech Republic it is usually an opportunity for you to complain so it really is a 180 degree turn to put up a smile and say ‘great!’. But it is a good turn, I think!

CZ: I po 12 letech ziti v Americe mam stale problem odpovidat na vetu “How are you?”. A i kdyz nad tim casto premyslim, nemuzu se dopidit proc. Vim, ze je to tady v Americe brane jako povrchni otazka a proto nikdy nevim, jakou povrchni odpovedi mam odpovedet. Mam vzdycky odpovedet ‘good’? I kdyz nejsem ‘good’? Nebo k tomu ‘good’ pridam trosku povzdechu, aby jim doslo, ze teda nejsem uplne 100% good? A co potom? Jakou povrchni opoved mam sdilet? Ja vetsinou placnu neco o mych detech a pak se rychle zeptam te druhe osoby, jak se ma on/ona.

Z Cech jsem jeste zvykla, ze jestli se vas nekdo zepta jak se mate, tak je to vestinou prilezist si postezovat. Ale tady je to pravy opak! Coz je asi lepsi…..

 

If you liked this post buy me a coffee! (Suggested:$3 a latte $8 for a pound) Thanks!

48 comments… add one

  • Eva Z. November 3, 2011, 3:12 pm

    I think it’s rhetorical question. You are supposed to say, “Good, how are you?” and they say “Good, thanks!” and conversation goes further or not at all. I got used to it. Facial expressions – friendly upbeat smile. Noone cares that you are not doing good and if you are not doing good, you do not want to bring the negativity to their day… If someone really cares how you are doing, they don’t usually ask you that way :) I am actually quite sick of the Czech answer: “Oh I am doing terrible, I have all these pains and illnesses, the weather is terrible, my daughter doesn’t listen to me and they rose the price of butter/bread/meat/drugs… again…” :))) Who cares!

  • Simona November 3, 2011, 3:49 pm

    LOL, it’s true for me too and funny enough…I think it depends who asks you the question. Some people want to initiate a conversation, which can go either way, sometimes it’s an ice breaker. It’s just a way to start the talk. If it’s in a grocery store or so, it’s just a variation of saying hello. Some people are not that comfortable going straight to a discussion, so they first ask this question. Many times it’s just a statement without expecting answer or feedback, but many times it’s also a good way to start talking to somebody. Either way, it’s a cultural thing… :-)

  • Brian Lanc November 3, 2011, 5:26 pm

    I have gotten to the point where I do not say much to them… i say “ok” or if it is a friend I will say “like s**t” just to get a smile out of them. Sometimes I do not even respond….. to a friend or especially to someone who I know that they don’t really care…. they are just asking it. Americans are strange. I figure that if they really do care how I am, and if I would say that I am doing poorly and they would care enough to ask why, then maybe I will respond to them. otherwise I think it is rude on their part to ask something if they do not really care what the answer is… but that is just me.

  • Tanja November 3, 2011, 9:18 pm

    The funniest thing is if they just walk by and ask the question and then don’t even wait for the shortest answer. Now that I am thinking about it, I have acclimated and do the same thing (to the ‘how are you’ on-the-run) but that one is the easiest one to handle. Because I know they don’t expect any answer.

    But I really think it’s kind of ingrained in us to answer in the poor-me kind of way so that nobody gets suspicious or jealous that YOU are doing better than THEM. Because then you know the revenge would come. It’s the leftover communist agenda.

  • keef November 3, 2011, 9:21 pm

    I prefer to perform a 30 second expressionist modern dance performance to answer the question. With a dash of pantomime.

  • Martin November 4, 2011, 6:29 am

    I know how you feel, Tatjana. I used to thing that it was a question or something… :))
    But I like it now – we’re cheering one another up a bit, right?

    How you doin’? – I’m good, what about yourself? – Good. – Great!

    Beats the “Ale, ani se neptej…”, or “Stoji to za … ” :))

  • Romana Osborne November 4, 2011, 9:38 am

    This is such big issue with the Czechs s in America. When we first come here , learning English and someone asks this we dutifully translate, thinking we need to answer in complete honesty.
    I agree that it is a cultural thing, meant to initiate a conversation or just show kindness. And you can answer, but don’t have to it also depends on your relationship with that person. If my best friend calls and says “hey how are ya”, I am going to tell her exactly how I am. Not so with my neighbour, who is in fact just being neighbourly. I think it is part of a greeting. Do we not have that in Czech? “Dobry den mlada pani, jak pak…”

  • Tanja November 4, 2011, 10:06 pm

    Yep, I think you explained it very well. I agree :)
    And yes, we do have that ‘Dobry den mlada pani, jak pak se mate..” but the answer would be something like this: “No, to vite, jde to, jde to” (with a sigh) or “No, mohlo by byt hur, vidte..” or “Ale, kolena me boli, syn mi bere drogy, manzelka me podvadi a vcera me vyhodili z prace..”. In short, you will not get a charge of positive energy from that ;)

  • Tanja November 4, 2011, 10:07 pm

    Keef is hilarious!!

  • Peter Korchnak November 6, 2011, 3:58 pm

    All good points, both in the post and in the comments. I see the “How are you?” question as the first step in an elaborate social dance. One, it’s polite and the asker just wants to be seen as polite. Two, it establishes a surface familiarity that’s like oil in the engine of the American society. Three, it starts a cycle of reciprocity, which is important for the healthy functioning of any social relations. I ask you, you ask me, and who knows, maybe something, a conversation perhaps, will develop. You just never know, and you won’t know until you try.

    Or perhaps it’s something else. In his essay “On Evasive Thinking” (available in the Vintage Books collection “Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990), Vaclav Havel writes about the ritualization of language in communist Czechoslovakia, where, in his opinion, language became an end to itself rather than a means of communication. In the U.S. today, think “collateral damage” and “death tax” instead of “civilian deaths” or “casualties” and “estate tax”. Perhaps “How are you?” has been similarly ritualized and deprived of meaning because its function shifted from the original inquiry about the other person’s well-being to just a customary utterance intended to display a basic level of politeness.

    But perhaps I’m overthinking this and should just respond, “Fine,” and move on. But I’m Slovak, and like the Czechs, we overthink, don’t we?

    My personal approach to answering the question is similar to Simona’s and Romana’s: it depends on who’s asking. If I don’t want to talk to the asker, I just say, “Very well, thank you,” or something similar, and not ask anything back. If I do want to talk to the asker, I reply honestly, while picking only the positive elements of how I really am (I’ve been in the States for 8 years, what can I say). Then I ask the question back, and follow it up immediately with an additional question to continue the conversation. Yes, sometimes that follow up question has to do with the weekend…

    I just discovered this blog. Keep asking the difficult questions, Tanja!

    Peter

    P.S.: Som v pohode, dakujem. A tebe sa ako dari?

  • Tanja November 6, 2011, 8:46 pm

    Wow Peter, you must be a smart one, right? What a great style of writing! And you have been in the US for only 8 years? Klobouk dolu!!
    I love it how you compared this whole thing to the ‘first step in an elaborate social dance’. That’s what it is! You cracked the nut.

    Checked your blog and will be checking it frequently from now on. I have also put you on the list of my links (as you have already done – thank you!).

  • Staci November 6, 2011, 11:22 pm

    Great post!

    If you are looking for a way to train your brain to respond quickly, you can use the same response with everyone: “Fine, thanks. How are you?” If they are really interested in how you are, they will follow up with another question. You mentioned one, in fact: “I’m great. Thanks for asking. How was your weekend?”

    When someone asks you about your weekend, you should use your ‘filter’. (This is a real term.) You should use your filter with everyone except your best friend. In this case, your filter would strain out things like, “My dog died and my car broke down. My kid puked all over the sofa and I scrubbed it for hours.” No one wants to hear that on Monday morning. Huge bummer. If nothing good happened to you over the weekend, follow the advice you mentioned above and kick the ball back to the other person, “Oh, it was a pretty normal weekend. How about you? Did you do anything interesting?”

    In my experience, this cheerfulness skill is especially important in the Midwest and the South.

    While this all seems shallow, it has value. I’m reading a great book called ‘Social Intelligence’ and it begins with an explanation of how we absorb emotion from each other. If we are around positivity, we feel positive. If we around negativity, we feel negative. People prefer happiness. It’s pleasant.

    That being said, there are some parts of the US that are a bit more negative (New Jersey comes to mind) and you are more likely to hear people complaining there…”Ugh, can you beLIEVE this weather? So GRAY! My hair is so FRIZZY!” So if you live there, relax. You can pretty much say anything and no one will notice. :)

  • Tanja November 8, 2011, 7:25 am

    Haha so New Jersey is the closest to the Czech land, as far as negativity goes ! That explains why there is so many of us out there :)

  • Alex November 9, 2011, 2:51 pm

    As a Briton in Prague I have a clash of two cultures to contend with. For a start, no matter how much emphasis guide-books or language lessons put on ‘Jak se mate?’, no-one really ever asks that – or at least not cordially, as a greeting. I wondered for some time whether it was a city thing (indifferent to be cool) or a Czech thing. I have finally realized, after some time, that it is the latter.

    Which brings me to my second difficulty. If I ask an English-language speaker this ritual question, even in Prague, I get the ritual answer ‘I’m good’. Now, I am no linguistic prude, though I do stick up for American spellings such as verbs ending in ‘-ize’ (since that is etymologically more correct than ‘-ise’, or so the OED convinces me). But… ‘I’m good’? Sorry, guys, in this case we have to disagree. The correct response is, of course, ‘I’m well’. Just as one would say ‘I’m ill’. Remember, I am not questioning your moral upstandingness, just your well-being (or as you guys might say your ‘good-being’).

  • Ondra November 11, 2011, 8:50 am

    I usually give an answer dependingly on my own mood. When I moved to UK, I was completely confused as I didnt understand why everyone looked at me with such a shocking expression on face, when I replied I felt bad :]] After that I just realized, that everything would be much easier for me if I sad I felt great. That’s exactly what I did – a short reply and running away (why bother to wait, in 99% cases the other person has no interest at all to know how you feel anyway :]). But lately I’ve cought myself saying truth no matter what it is – and to be honest, I just can’t see nothing wrong about that. Yes I know, some people tend to say (my english friends too), that Czechs are pessimistic and how great is that in US or UK people are always optimistic saying they are great even if they are not. I usually oppose saying, I just don’t like constantly bullshitting others. I guess, the truth is somewhere in the middle, maybe I should stick with the cultural habits of the country where I live, but on the other hand I believe, people shouldn’t change their personality and be pretentious ;)

  • Eva Z. November 11, 2011, 8:58 am

    Alex, you are preaching to the choir here! Most of us were taught British English and it was interesting to see the differences once we came to America. I remember being made fun of my lift vs. elevator and a lot of other words that I can’t recall anymore…including the I am well phrase. Americans are degenerating the English language but who doesn’t…Even in Czech language, there are more and more Americanisms and made up words that are not even close to the correct Czech. I am sure every language has these issues as there are differences between the spoken and the correct version and with the merging and influences of many other languages and cultures it will be increasingly hard to keep it correct, don’t you think?

  • Ondra November 11, 2011, 9:13 am

    Eva: Totally agree! What’s quite funny is the rivality between US vs UK which I still cant get. Here in England people say, that Americans degenerating English. Opposed to it, in US people like to call Britons smart asses for their sometimes overcomplicated way to talk :]]

    As to the phrase ‘I’m good’. I cant remember, when I heard ‘I’m well’ last time. But clearly can remember when I got an answer ‘I’m good’. As you’ve said, that’s just the way in which english develops and some of those bad habits in language have been used so often it’s even impossible to say what’s right and what’s not anymore.

  • Eva Z. November 11, 2011, 9:19 am

    So Ondro, I wonder, what do English say when you ask them “How are you?”. Do they actually say “I’m well.”? I was just in England but don’t remember…or maybe because I never ask anyone outside of the US how they are :)

  • Ondra November 11, 2011, 9:45 am

    Eva: Most of time I get ‘I’m good’ answer. Don’t know why, maybe it just sounds more cool :]] On top of it, some of them tend to say Good day instead of good morning (in Australian fashion when good and day words are being pronounced as ‘gudei’ and it really does sound funny :]])

  • Eva Z. November 11, 2011, 9:53 am

    Ok, so even the English say it wrong :) Anyway, better “gudei” than “top o’ th’ mornin’ to you” :) Then I am totally lost!

  • Alex November 11, 2011, 9:54 am

    By far the most common answer to ‘How are you?’ in England is ‘Very well, thanks’. Not ‘I’m well’, note, but ‘Very well, thanks.’ (Even if they are not well, it goes without saying).

    I’ve noticed that younger people tend say ”I’m good’ or ‘Good’ , but grow out of it when they realize that everyone else around them says ‘Very well, thanks.’

  • Eva Z. November 11, 2011, 10:01 am

    Very well then, thanks Alex! ;)

  • Romana Osborne November 11, 2011, 12:02 pm

    Positive outlook has an impact on a person’s sense of well being as well their overall health. They say….

  • Melinda Brasher November 11, 2011, 12:12 pm

    When I teach ESL abroad, I just tell people to think of “How are you?” the same way someone in another language or culture might say “Good day.” It’s not really a question. It’s a polite, friendly acknowledgement of the other person’s existence. Then, if you’re really friends, and you really want to know, you inflect it differently.

  • Ondra November 11, 2011, 1:08 pm

    Eva: cant blame you, I would be too :]

  • Ondra November 11, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Alex: surely it’s depends on what sort of people you meet (class, background, age, education etc).

  • Ondra November 11, 2011, 1:17 pm

    Romana: I’m not sure if it really works. I’ve been in England just for 3 years now, but what I’ve already noticed is a fact, that such a huge number of people is on drugs to fight their mental issue. At first I though it was just my impression, but honestly I know so many people who just take pills because they are depressed. It seems to me, that most of people are just pretending their well-being – smiling, saying how well they are doing and in the meantime bottling up their depression.

  • Alex November 11, 2011, 1:54 pm

    Ondra, I’m sure you’re right. There is bound to be a class/age difference. All I’m saying really is that ‘I’m well’ is the dominant form, and indeed is taught that way in English lessons not just in the UK but across Europe.

    It’s worth looking at responses in other languages. Ask a French or Italian speaker, and they will reply ‘bien’ and ‘bene’ respectively. These are translations of ‘well’, not ‘good’ – in other words in these languages too, they idiomatically follow ‘am’ with the adverb, rather than the adjective that might be expected. And, dare I say it, it’s the same in Czech. You could say, in response to a question about your wellbeing, ‘dobrý/dobrá’ but equally it is permissible (and, I suspect, more common?) to use the adverb – ‘dobře’.

  • Ondra November 11, 2011, 2:02 pm

    Alex: yes, you are right. I’ve been taught to say ‘well’ not ‘good’ at my school and it makes sence to say so. I just wanted to show how dynamic and developing English language is. Phrases and parts of language that are alright today may not be that much alright in a few years’ time and vice versa ;)

  • Staci November 12, 2011, 2:53 am

    Alex,
    Why would you use an adverb to describe a noun? I’m just not clear on this one grammatically. If you use ‘I am ill’ as a parallel example, the word following ‘am’ is an adjective. Imagine someone asked you, “What sort of runner are you?” You would not say, “I am fastly.” You would say, “I am fast.” The proper usage is, “I am good.” It is “the food is hot,” not “the food is hotly”. Please help me understand the grammatical logic behind using an adverb in the single case of “I am well.”
    Staci

  • Alex November 12, 2011, 3:26 am

    Hi Staci. The example you give (‘I am fastly’) doesn’t quite work because the adverb from ‘fast’ is ‘fast’, not ‘fastly': a fast runner runs fast. Nevertheless in principle you’re quite right – it is illogical to use an adverb after the copula (linking verb). A better example would be ‘I am quickly’. I completely take your point. But, however illogical this structure may seem, it is – for better or worse – idiomatic in many languages.

    The clue is in the question. When we are asked ‘How…?’ + a non-copulative (non-linking) verb, we normally reply with an adverb. ‘How does she cook?’ ‘She cooks expertly’ (not ‘she cooks expert’) ‘How does he dance?’ ‘He dances beautifully’, not ‘He dances beautiful’.

    The history of ‘well’ may have something to do with this. Years ago, the question was often not ‘how are you’, but ‘how do you’ or ‘how fare you’. ‘In fact the word ‘farewell’ comes from the answer to the last question ‘May you fare well’. In the same way the correct response to ‘How do you’ (or ‘how do you do’) is ‘I’m doing well’ – although because of the ambiguity of the ‘am+good’ structure, this has also changed to ‘I’m doing good’.

    The other reason for the oddity of the idiom is that ‘I am well’ distinguishes a state of health from a state of moral wellness, just as ‘I am ill’ is distinguishable from ‘I am bad’, although here again, the boundaries have become blurred in certain types of speech. ‘How you doin’ ?’ ‘I’m (doin’) bad’.

    Hope this helps. It is a minefield!

  • Eva Z November 12, 2011, 8:21 am

    Romana, you are right that positive outlook is healthy but in a lot of people has to be learned. Also your comment on antidepressants in England. Not surprising. I’m there for 3 days and ready to commit suicide. :) Joking of course… But I think the weather doesn’t help, it’s the SAD syndrome and a lot of other factors. In any case, I think the principle here is that even if I’m not doing well I’m not going to bother other people with it especially not in a short conversation or encounter. Let’s stay positive and fake it till you make it! :)

  • Staci November 12, 2011, 11:54 am

    Alex,

    Thanks for your well-researched response. I’m sorry my irony didn’t come across well…”fastly” was supposed to sound as silly to you as “well” does to me. It seems to me that “I am good” and “I am doing well” are the two grammatically correct choices. Granted, “I am well” makes sense if the reference is strictly to health, however I think we all understand the question to be about general condition.

    I’m not so sure this linguistic relic is idiomatic in many languages. Taking the French example you cited above, “Bien” is the response because the question is “Comment vas-tu?” The verb is “to go”, thus there is a clear requirement for the adverb. The complete answer is “Je vais bien,” or literally, “I go well.”

    While the question may have been “How do you fare?” in the past, it is now “How are you?” Things change. Personally, I’m going to stick with “Good”–maybe even “Great”– and keep taking my licks from the smug bunch. Never gets old. (Irony again.)

    Staci

  • Melinda Brasher November 12, 2011, 4:47 pm

    As for the I am well vs I am good debate, I think both are fine. “I as well” is idiomatic and “proper,” but “I am good” is much, much more logical.

    I believe that with most stative verbs, the adjective should be used because it’s saying A = B Example: “I am a teacher.” I = teacher. “My cat is black.” cat = black. My cat most certainly isn’t blackly.

    In expressions like “I feel good” or “I feel well,” I argue that “I feel good” means I = good. The verb is acting as a stative verb. “I feel well” means that my tactile receptors are very talented. When you use the adverb, it turns the verb into its non-stative version. Another example: “I smell good” means I am clean and perfumed. “I smell well” means that I can sniff a soup and detect its ingredients. “He looks good”–I’m attracted to him. “He looks well”– He has talented eyes (though this is another one where many people say “he looks well” is correct to refer to health).

    All this is academic, really. I think most of these phrases can be used either way, and I don’t have a real problem with it. I’m not sure exactly how sure anyone can be about these rules when language developed organically, and is still developing.

  • Jamie November 12, 2011, 6:18 pm

    First off, I’m a native-born American, and even in the United States, “I’m good,” is terrible grammar in answer to the question, “How are you?” I don’t care how many people say it; it’s wrong. As kids we got corrected immediately by our parents and teachers if we said that. Answering, “I’m good,” to that question means something like, “Jsem hodný,” or, “Jsem šikovný.” We were taught to say, “I’m fine.” If you say, “I am…,” the next word has to be an adverb. “Good” may be an adverb in Swedish, but not in English.

    However, answering that question with, “I’m well,” sounds bizarre to Americans. It is not grammatically wrong, but it’s equivalent to answering, “I’m not sick.” No one would do that here.

    Then there’s that crazy British custom of answering the question, “How do you do?” with, “How do you do?” To Americans, “How do you do?” means the same thing as, “How are you?” To us it’s like a 150-year-old version of, “How are you?”

    The Czechs have similarly annoying sentences that appear to require a response but don’t. Americans say, “Bon appetit,” ONLY when serving someone food. (Sorry, you Czenglish speakers, but in English people don’t wish you, “Good appetite”!) However, Czechs say, “Dobrou chuť!” every time they see another person chewing. So as an American, you’ll be walking down Hlavní with a mouth full of rohlík, a person passing you will say, “Dobrou chuť!” and you feel like you have to chew it all up and swallow really fast so that you can respond before they’re gone. But when you go to respond, what do you say?

  • Jamie November 12, 2011, 6:45 pm

    Ondra’s remark about the rivalry between the US and the UK calls for comment:

    My entire time growing up in the US, and into my 30s, I never perceived any significant linguistic rivalry between the Americans and the British. We were aware of the dialect differences, but we didn’t consider one superior or the other inferior. In American films, the voice of God was always British (now God’s usually black), but so was the evil genius. Anyway, we just thought if you live in one place you talk one way, and if you live in another you talk another way. When I spoke to the British — including English teachers from the UK — neither of us ever made the other self-conscious about our speech, and we were almost always on the same side against the Czechs in matters of grammar and vocabulary. (You see, mistakes in ESL textbooks written by Czechs are usually referred to as “British English” when an American finds them. If a Brit finds them, the Czechs tell the Brit that his English is “polluted with Americanisms”. So neither the Americans nor the British could win those arguments, since the Czechs are the world’s supreme authorities on the quality of someone’s English.)

    No, the British never made me feel defensive about my English. Do you know who did that? THE CZECHS! The Czechs are MUCH worse than the British in their belief that American English is “some kind of ruined English”, as one teacher there called it. It’s the Czechs and not the British who make Americans feel like they should be put into a leper colony so that their linguistic infection doesn’t spread.

    So, just as living in the Czech Republic made me start hating the Beatles, it also taught me to be defensive about my English.

    This is especially absurd because most Czechs who believe this could never tell the difference between UK and US English if their lives depended on it. When a Czech client says he wants something written in “British English”, it usually means one of two things: (a) He wants it in Czenglish, or (b) “-re, -our, no slang, don’t embarrass me.”

    And if these people had ever been to London, they might be aware that about half the native-born British there speak TERRIBLE English!

    However, there is one annoying habit that many of the British display: A lot of them seem to think that any bad grammar they hear used by more than one American must be standard American English. When you read lists of what bothers the British most about American English, about a quarter of the examples will be bad grammar that is also unacceptable in America. About another quarter will be old words, expressions and grammatical forms that the British planted in America centuries ago but have since stopped using. Old British forms still used by Americans include things like “gotten” and “fall” in the sense of autumn. However, many of the British think the Americans made them up.

  • Staci November 12, 2011, 11:21 pm

    Jamie,

    I have two questions for you. Is ‘fine’ an adverb? Can you give an example of the ‘I am [adverb]’ construction? (Other than ‘I am well’.) Test whether the example holds true by changing the conjugation to ‘He is’.

    Staci

  • Jamie November 13, 2011, 5:35 am

    In the response, “I’m fine,” the word “fine” is a simple adverb (i.e., one with no “-ly” suffix).

    It’s hard to find an example of the same question with another adverb, because we simply don’t answer that question with a wide variety of adverbs. However, it can be argued that, “I’m fine,” and, “I’m well,” are elliptical forms of the sentences, “I’m [doing, feeling] fine,” and, “I’m [doing, feeling] well.” If any other adverb is used in response to that question, one of those verbs is inserted: “I’m doing splendidly,” for example.

  • Staci November 13, 2011, 7:05 am

    You are not ‘inserting another verb’, you are changing the verb entirely. You are switching from the first person singular, simple present form of ‘to be’ (am) to the first person singular , present continuous form of ‘to do’ (am doing).

    While ‘fine’ can be a simple adverb, it is only such in cases where it modifies a verb indicating action, for example, “She did fine on her test.” Even then, it is an informal usage.

    Other answers to “How are you?” are: “I am happy,” “I am sad,” “I am busy,” “I am relaxed,” and “I am tired.” In all of these cases, the first person singular conjugation of ‘to be’ is followed by an adjective; these adjectives are describing the noun ‘I’. If you were to respond with “I am well rested,” you would be justified in using the adverb ‘well’ in order to modify the adjective ‘rested’.

    Your statement, “If you say, ‘I am…,’ the next word has to be an adverb,” is incorrect. I’m sorry to be blunt.

  • Jamie November 13, 2011, 7:19 am

    I don’t mind you being blunt, but you’re wrong. “Fine” and “well” are adverbs in this usage. Think of this:

    If the person answers, “I am sad,” he is saying that he’s a sad person (at the moment).
    If the person answers, “I am busy,” he is saying that he’s a busy person (at the moment).
    If the person answers, “I am relaxed,” he is saying that he’s a relaxed person (at the moment).
    If the person says, “I am tired,” he is saying he’s a tired person (at the moment).

    If the person answers, “I am fine,” he is NOT saying he is a fine person. He’s saying he’s doing fine.
    If the person answers, “I am good,” he is NOT saying he’s a good person. He’s saying he’s doing “good”, which is not standard grammar.

    Sorry, but “fine” and probably “well” are NOT predicate adjectives in this usage. If they were, you could use them as pre-nominal adjectives and they would work, but they don’t.

    There’s an argument to be made that the person who says, “I’m well,” is saying he’s a well person, but that’s relatively rare usage, and it’s just as likely he’s saying he’s doing well.

    Staci, at times when I’m paying attention, you’re not going to win against me.

  • Karen November 13, 2011, 7:56 am

    Wow, total culture shock reading how much overthinking there is on this question.
    Speaking respectfully due to your experience, this is when an American can see what a number the Commies did on your souls when you have to worry this much about what the answer should be. You can just say “fine” and ask a question that launches a new topic you’re comfortable with.

  • Staci November 13, 2011, 8:22 am

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, Jamie. Well done.

    <>

    The hypothetical person intended to say that he is doing well or doing fine, but he has not said that; he said, “I am fine.” He used a different verb in a different tense. I appreciate the clarity with which you restated the point.

    As I stated earlier and as you reinforced above, the correct usage is either, “I am good” or “I am doing well.” “I am well” contains an incorrect substitution of ‘to be’ for ‘to do’.

    How different are ‘to be’ and ‘to do’? Compare the two following sentences. I am dishes. I do dishes. These are not interchangeable verbs.

    It’s not a matter of winning against you, whatever that means. I’m sorry that you take matters of grammar so personally.

  • Tanja November 13, 2011, 2:07 pm

    LOL Karen, up to this point this was one of the few issues which I did not blame the commies for. But may think this one over.

  • Jamie November 13, 2011, 3:54 pm

    As I read once in a Czech newspaper: “Komunismus nemůže za všechno.” (Not everything can be the fault of communism.)

    If this problem were the fault of communism, Karen, then you’d have to explain why so many people who come from non-English-speaking countries that were never communist complain of the same issue.

    This is a cultural matter. People from Russia all the way to Jamaica have problems with the American custom of saying, “How are you?” without expecting an answer, with the custom of Americans being extremely friendly without being your friend, and with Americans saying, “See you later!” when they don’t plan to come right back.

    It’s got nothing to do with communism.

  • Melinda Brasher November 14, 2011, 11:20 am

    Jamie,

    In response to your comment that various nationalities take issue to American niceties, that’s true. However, I have never quite understood the vehemence.

    We say “See you later!” when we don’t plan to come back right away. Czechs say “na shledanou” (literally something like “until the next meeting”) when they leave strangers on the train. They don’t plan on EVER seeing each other again.

    After about the fourth month backpacking alone in Central America, I got almost violently annoyed at how everyone would call me “amiga!” (friend) when they most clearly only wanted to sell me something. Then I told myself that I was not being very cultural open.

    I love your example of “Dobrou chut'” (Bon Apetit) to strangers. I’m not sure it’s entirely sincere, but it’s polite, a way of casually making contact with strangers, and validating each others’ existence. I therefore think it generally a positive thing, just like “How are you?” without sincerely wanting an answer.

    Cultures differ. So do people’s views of “right” and “proper.”

  • Jamie November 14, 2011, 11:43 am

    Melinda, I think the meaning of, “Dobrou chuť!” anywhere other than the table (such as walking down the street, walking into someone’s office, etc.) is actually something like, “You have my permission to continue eating without offering me anything.”

    It’s not a way of making contact as much as it is permission to continue eating your own food.

  • Melinda Brasher November 14, 2011, 1:28 pm

    I think that’s a cool use of “Dobrou chut’,” but I was thinking more of the way when you’re sitting at lunch in a restaurant at the same table with strangers, and you haven’t exchanged a word, hardly a glance, and then your food comes and they say “dobrou chut’.” I guess it is still sort of a permission to eat in their presence. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. But to me it feels also like a sort of greeting–an acknowledgement of shared experience. Maybe that’s just me imposing my own culture. :)

  • Tanja November 14, 2011, 2:18 pm

    Dobrou chut means something like ‘let’s eat’. The fact that it literally means ‘Good Appetite’ or ‘ I hope you will like the taste of what’s in front of you’ is kind of a side note.

Leave a Comment