It’s been a while… (Starting a conversation with an old friend)

by Kate Woodford


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.

55 thoughts on “It’s been a while… (Starting a conversation with an old friend)

  1. Pingback: It’s been a while… (Starting a conversation with an old friend) – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Aug 24, 2016) | Editorial Words

      1. benedito viola

        i’m also looking for people with who i can exchange correspondence in english so that i can improve. so, you may chat with me

  2. Imf

    “How do you do?” or “How are you?” is deeply planted in my brain, that’s why I am unable to catch a bit in conversation.

  3. Peter Kyalo

    this is very nice tips of conversation,thank you,am Peter from Kenya,kindly support me to further my degree in English language,

  4. Sayed


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    1. Eric

      Personally, I’m not a fan of having to answer simple small talk styled greetings/ice breakers such as “What’s up?”

      I mean, it’s probably mildly rude to answer “What’s up?” with what I am about to say depending on how familiar you may or may not be with the person asking it, alongside the tone of voice and body language that you use while delivering this as an answer…but…

      Q: What’s up?
      A: The sky/A pixar movie.

      Those are slightly passive aggressive ways of answering that question.

      Q: What’s up?
      A: Not much/Nothing.

      Those are, in my opinion, a way of answering the question that I feel are a way of putting as much effort into the answer as they did into the question they are asking in the first place.

      Keep in mind, I’m not the most social person in the sense of being able to tolerate small talk that really doesn’t say much of anything in the process of communication such as the above question…so I’d probably suggest taking my suggestion with a grain of salt and use it with discretion.


  5. Thank you for giving me some friendly and informal questions that I can use in a conversation with an old friend I have. Lily, my childhood friend, is coming over this weekend to catch up a little bit and although it’s really nice to have her around, I’m really nervous since I’m not a good conversation partner. I think using the present perfect continuous way of asking questions as you have advised can get the conversation going, so I’m a little more confident now. Also, it might be better to hold the conversation in a nearby tavern for a more carefree vibe.

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