Difference Between When Someone Asks “How have you been?” and “How are you?” (Explained)

“How are you?” and “How have you been?” although sound quite similar show concern for someone’s well-being, but the change in tense may slightly influence their answers.

When being asked a question about your state, it’s important to decipher whether it’s just a polite conversation starter or the speaker is actually interested in learning the details. This is when you focus on the tense and the undertone of the question asked.

Informing more than you are asked can come off as unprofessional or forward, especially if you’re in a formal situation. Knowing which of these questions to ask in a given situation and how to answer the question adds to your persona.

“How Have You Been?” vs. “How Are You?”

“How have you been?” Vs “How are you?”
“How have you been?” Vs “How are you?”

“How have you been?” is a present perfect tense, while “How are you?” is a simple present tense. This is a small yet significant detail that sets the tone for the rest of your conversation.

“How have you been?” implies that you are asking about someone’s condition since you last met them. Therefore, it only makes sense to ask this question when you already know them, yet haven’t seen them for quite a while.

This question also reflects compassion and genuine concern about someone’s state or mood.

“How are you?” is a generic question that’s a follow-up of a “hi” or a “hello”. For example, “Hi, How are you?” in many situations, comes off naturally. The intent isn’t to get a thorough update about the person’s well-being, but just to sound polite and respectful.

It’s a simple query about your current mood and well-being, and usually, a short and positive answer is expected.

But that doesn’t mean every “How are you?” is the same as most of it depends on who the speaker is and his body language.

Which Is More Formal?

“How are you?” is more formal than “How have you been?”

“How have you been?” is asked when you are interested in someone’s state or condition since the last time you met. It sets a more casual and open tone for the conversation.

For example, if you’re in a meeting with a client whom you have met a couple of weeks ago, asking “How have you been?” may show genuine concern, but it can shift the conversation from a professional setting to a more casual one.

While asking “How are you?” acknowledges your concern without making it the highlight of your conversation. It will keep the greetings short and formal, and you can move right into the topic of your concern while also sounding polite.

Which Is More Polite?

Since they reflect your concern for someone’s well-being, both are polite, what matters is asking the right question in a given circumstance.

If you meet a friend after he has suffered from an illness, asking “How are you?” can make you sound unsympathetic and unstirred towards his sufferings. While “How have you been?” implies you are aware and informed of his illness and are genuinely concerned about his progress.

Whereas asking “How have you been?” to someone you have just met can come off as intrusive and presumptuous.

Is It Better to Use “How Have You Been?” Or “How Are You?” When Writing an Email?

Writing an email
Is it better to use “How have you been?” Or “How are you?” when writing an email?

As with verbal communication, “How have you been?” can be used in emails when you need the email to sound pleasant and casual. It’s also an appropriate greeting if your cause for writing that email is to inquire about their health and well-being.

But that doesn’t mean “How are you?” can’t be used instead. If used in the right context, it can sound just as friendly and warm.

For example, “How are you? I hope you have been doing well.”

Even though “How are you?” is more admissible for formal conversations, when writing an email using something like “hope this email finds you well” or “hope you are doing fine” is a more suitable fit since it takes the pressure off from the reader of carrying on with the small talk while replying.

What Does It Mean When Someone Says “How Have You Been?”

“How have you been?” means that the speaker is inquiring about your state or mood since you last saw them.

This query can either be asked out of concern or curiosity. In both cases, a relatively long and detailed answer is expected.

It’s asked when you have met someone a week or two earlier. If you see a person every day or frequently then a more appropriate question would be “How are you?”

“How have you been?” comes with an unsaid “since”. For example, “How have you been since I last saw you?” or “How have you been since you got sick?”

The “since” statement is a given, it isn’t stated out loud as the speaker and listener are each aware of the last time they have been together or have updated each other about.

How Do You Respond to “How Have You Been?”

There are proper or incorrect methods of answering “How have you been?” Normally, it entails an in-depth answer, one which gives an update of all the events leading up to the present moment since you last met them.

But that isn’t always a rule. If you aren’t comfortable sharing a lot then a simple “I’ve been quite good, what about you?” works simply fine. It all relies on the bond you share with the speaker.

Other valid responses can be along the lines of:

  • “I have been busy with work, my timetable has gotten pretty hectic.”
  • “Not my best, my cat has been sick for two weeks.”
  • “I have been preparing for my exams.”

Shorter replies maybe something like:

  • “Great! How are you?”
  • “Have been worse.”
  • “Not so bad.”
  • “All good!”
  • “Not so good, what about you?”

How Do You Respond to “How Are You?”

“How are you?” is a question regarding your present situation. Depending on its delivery, it can either be more of a formality than an actual question or it can be a genuine concern.

It’s a polite way to start a conversation, which makes you sound warm and welcoming. When used in a formal setting, a generally precise and positive answer is expected.

For example, if asked in an interview, you don’t want to concern your interviewer with details about your current situation whether they’re in bad or good shape. A brief and simple answer like “Very well thank you” will work just fine.

Some other ways of responding to “How are you?” in a formal conversation are:

  • “I am good, how are you?”
  • “I am fine, thanks, how are you?”

When talking to your friend or someone you are very well acquainted with, the extent of the answer depends on your conversation.

Alternatives to “How Have You Been?” and “How Are You?”

There are many other ways to greet both formally and informally.

For a formal conversation, as opposed to “How are you?” you can begin your conversation with:

  • “Hello, hope you’re well.”
  • “Hello, hope you’re having a good day.”
  • “Hi, nice to meet you”

For an informal conversation, instead of saying “How are you?” or “How have you been?” you can say:

  • “How are you doing?”
  • “Hey, long time, no see”
  • “Hey, what’ve you been up to?”
  • “Hi, how’s life been treating you?”

Bottom line

While both are simply polite greetings, “How are you?” works for both formal and informal conversations depending on how you say it, and “How have you been?” is suitable for informal conversations, with someone you have already met a while ago.

How you answer a question is equally important as asking the right question. Therefore, tailor your answer according to a given situation and the speaker.

However, don’t get confused by reading too much into it, if you’re not sure what to answer, a simple and precise positive answer for both questions will work just fine.

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A web story summary that differentiates the two can be found here.

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