People often ask us for conversational English on this blog. They want to learn the sort of phrases that they can use to chat informally with friends. Of course, we can chat about so many different subjects, it’s hard to know which particular areas of the language to look at. However, one thing that we all need from time to time is the language for starting a conversation with a friend that we haven’t seen for a while.
The following are all used as friendly, informal questions between friends who have just met again, having not seen each other recently:
How are you doing?
How’s it going?
How are things (with you)?
How have you been?
The positive reply is usually Good, thanks, often followed by a similar question. In the UK people may say Yeah, good, thanks, and in the US people may say Real good, thanks. (You might notice that the grammatically correct Really well, thanks is not used very much in informal spoken English.)
If the two people haven’t seen each other for a long time, one of them often mentions this next. They say I haven’t seen you for ages, I feel I haven’t seen you for ages, or It seems like ages since I last saw you. The friend might reply Yes, it’s been a while.
A natural next step is to show interest by asking What have you been doing recently? Note the tense: the present perfect continuous, used for recent activities that are still continuing. The answer often includes the same tense:
So what have you been doing recently?
Actually, I’ve been travelling (UK)/traveling (US) a lot.
I’ve mainly been working.
A more informal question with the same meaning is So what have you been up to recently?
So what have you been up to recently?
Not much, actually. I’ve been too busy studying.
The person replying often asks the same question, sometimes with the shorter, How about you?
Again, to show interest in the other person’s life, one of the friends might refer to the last time they met or spoke, mentioning something that was happening in the other person’s life at that point:
The last time I saw you, I think you were about to start your course.
The last time we spoke, you’d just started your new job.
It is natural to follow this with a question about that situation:
So how’s the course/job going?
So is the course/job going well?
Another question for asking about a particular situation is How are things at…?:
So how are things at work?
So how are things at home? How are your parents?
By now, the two friends have caught up (=heard each other’s news) and they may move on to other subjects.