Think about how you say this simple question:
How are you?
How do you usually inquire how someone is doing?
Over the years, you may have practiced the question so many times that you don’t usually think about how it sounds.
In this video lesson, you’ll learn how to use your tone more effectively when asking, “How are you?”
You can change your stress and choose a different intonation pattern to show a variety of emotions, including interest, excitement, concern, worry, sympathy, and annoyance.
(Watch the video once, and then go back, repeat the video, and pause to practice as many times as necessary. I summarize the intonation patterns below, but you need to hear them to get the full effect!)
Remember, you may need to replace the default intonation you’ve developed over time.
With practice, the different patterns will become more familiar to you, and you’ll notice that you sound more expressive.
You can also apply these intonation patterns to similar expressions:
- What’s up?
- How’s it going?
- How’re you doing?
Neutral Intonation on “How are you?”
Let’s take a look at the basic intonation pattern of “How are you?”
You will ask the question “how are you?” with a rise in the middle of the sentence because it’s an information question.
So if the person who’s asking you “how are you?” has a neutral tone, they’re just inquiring about how you’re doing.
They’re simply going to put the intonation in the middle of the sentence.
Repeating the Question Back to Someone
If someone has asked you this question and you answer and then repeat the question back to them, you’ll raise your voice to stress the word “you.”
In this way, you’re pointing right at that person using your voice: “how are YOU?”
Showing Excitement to See Someone After a Long Time
If you are excited to see your friend and you haven’t seen them in a long time, you might show extra enthusiasm with your voice.
To do this, stress the word “are” and keep your intonation light and happy: “How ARE you?”
Showing Concern with “How are you?”
If maybe you’re worried about the other person, and you want to make sure that they’re doing okay, you’re going to say “how are you?” with worried intonation: “How are you???”
Your question will sound a little more rushed, and you’ll emphasize “are” with a rise in pitch to show worry and concern.
Showing Sympathy with “How are you?”
If you’re speaking to someone who has had a loss in the family or experienced some sort of tragedy, you’re probably not going to ask “How are you?” as a question.
Instead, you’ll say “How are you…” with a drop in pitch at the end. The question becomes a statement because you know that the person has been experiencing a challenging situation.
Your tone shows sympathy and concern, and your facial expression will reveal how you truly feel.
Using Flat Intonation When You Don’t Like Someone
If you don’t really like somebody and you’re not particularly interested in hearing how they’re doing, you’re going to ask “How are you?” with flat intonation.
Because flat intonation shows disinterest, you want to make sure you practice all of these different intonation patterns.
If your default intonation is very flat, it sounds like you’re annoyed at that person! 😞
Be careful: you only want to use flat intonation with “How are you?” if you’re actually annoyed at the person or not interested in hearing what they have to say.
Now that you’ve learned several intonation patterns for this very simple question, you need to repeat them. These intonation patterns take practice.
Listen to the video a few times and imitate the stress and tone I demonstrate with my voice.
You’ll soon be able to express a number of emotions and attitudes with such a short, simple question.
If you like this lesson, there are 29 more inside the 30 Days of Intonation program. Over the course of a month, you’ll learn a variety of intonation patterns on useful words, phrases, and expressions so that you can feel more confident about the way you’re communicating your meaning in English.