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Making Small Talk and Catching Up with a Friend or Acquaintance

Have you ever run into a friend or acquaintance whom you hadn’t seen in weeks, months, or even years? What do you say to them?  What do you begin to talk about?  Let’s talk about useful phrases for making small talk with a friend after you haven’t seen them for awhile!

We make small talk differently depending on the person and the situation. Today, we are going to look at vocabulary you can use to make small talk with someone you already know.


Greeting an Acquaintance or Friend

When you run into a friend on the street, you will likely greet them with an enthusiastic “Hi!” or “Hey!”  You will probably say, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?”

If many weeks or months have passed since you last saw each  other, you might say, “How are you?” with special emphasis, or stress, on the word “are” to really show that it has been a long time.

You may also ask, “How’ve you been?”  Native English speakers use this question to show that a long time has passed since their last encounter, or meeting.

To really emphasize how long it’s been since you last saw your friend, you can use one of these common expressions:

  • It’s been forever!
  • I haven’t seen you in ages!
  • I haven’t see you for so long!
  • How long has it been since I last saw you?
  • When was the last time we saw each other?

You friend will probably say, “Yeah, I know!  I’ve been busy.”  He may share some information about why he has been busy or why you haven’t seen each other.  Perhaps she has been traveling, or has a new job, or got married or had a baby.


Making Small Talk with a Friend or Acquaintance

Your friend may immediately tell you some details about his or her life, but if not, there are many questions you can ask to start the conversation.

Because you are probably going to have a short conversation on the street, in a store, or in a restaurant, this is called small talk. Your conversation will be brief but you will learn about the most important things that have happened in your friend’s life.

After greeting your friend, you can ask, “What’ve you been up to?”  This question is used to find out what has happened in the weeks or months since you last saw each other by asking about both past and current events.

If you don’t have much time, you may just ask, “What are you up to?” or “What’s new with you?” to find out what’s going on in his or her life right now.

In the United States,  it is common to ask about your friend’s occupation, or job, first.  You can ask, “How’s work going?” or “How’s school going?”

Maybe your friend started a new job, so you can ask, “How’s the new job?”  Your friend may have recently moved to a new apartment  or house, so you may say, “How’s the new place?”

It is also common to ask about your friend’s family, especially if you know them personally.  If they are married with children, you can ask, “How’s your family?”  If you know the husband or wife by name, say “How’s Jane doing?” or “How’s Bill?”

You can ask specifically about your friend’s kids by inquiring “How are your kids?” or “What’s new with your kids?”

If you want to find out about his or her parents, you may say, “How are your parents?” or “How are your mom and dad doing?”

If you have other friends in common, you may want to talk about them.  You can ask, “Have you seen Joe recently?  What’s he up to?”

If you have recently spent time with a mutual friend, you may share some information about this person.  For example, you might say, “I saw Alex last week.  She has a new boyfriend.”

If the person you are talking to is just an acquaintance, or someone you don’t know very well, she may not want to provide many details about her life.

If you want to avoid sharing information when someone asks, “What’ve you been up to?” try these phrases:

  • Nothing special.
  • Same old, same old.
  • The usual! Work, study, home.

Ending Small Talk with a Friend or Acquaintance

After a short conversation with your friend, you probably need to continue with your original plan or errand.

However, you may want to spend more time with them to have a long, in-depth conversation about your lives.  There are many phrases you can use to suggest making plans to see each other again soon:

  • We should get together sometime.
  • We should catch up.
  • We should get coffee soon.
  • We should go out for a drink sometime soon.

By using “should,” you suggest that it would be a good idea to spend more time together, without making immediate plans.  If you ran into an acquaintance, you may be too busy to make time for them right now.

Using these expressions with “should” shows your friend that you would like to see them without obligating either of you to decide right that moment.

A good way to follow up this suggestion is to check to see that you have some way to get in contact with this person.

You can ask, “You have my number, right?” or “Do I have your cell?” or suggest that they contact you some other way:

  • “Find me on Facebook!”
  • “Message me on WhatsApp!”
  • “Text me when you’re free!”
  • “Send me an email and we’ll do something.”

If you both really want to see each other again, make sure you follow through and call, text, email, or message your friend.

However, if you don’t hear from your acquaintance, don’t worry; this kind of statement is non-committal and very common in American English.

After making these tentative plans, you can say goodbye to your friend and continue with your day.  Make sure they feel good about seeing you by using of the following expressions:

  • It was so nice to see you!
  • I’m so glad I ran into you!
  • I’m so happy things are going so well for you.
  • I hope to see you again soon!
  • Don’t be a stranger!

Your Turn

I hope you feel more comfortable making small talk and catching up with a friend or an acquaintance after reading this article. Now it’s your turn! Start a conversation in the comments below, and I’ll respond so we can make small talk. Let’s practice!

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4 thoughts on “Making Small Talk and Catching Up with a Friend or Acquaintance

  1. It’s funny about the non-committal ‘let’s do lunch’ suggestion for catching up. It’s such a cultural oddity, isn’t it? Great post.

    • I always think about an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie runs into her ex and he says “we should get coffee sometime” and she agrees even though she KNOWS that will never happen!

  2. When I studied abroad in Madagascar, we students from the US had to really unlearn this habit because if you say ‘let’s have coffee’ it means you’ve made plans. And people don’t understand why you ‘flake on them!’ And really, if you think about it, it makes sense.

    • Another great point, Trisha! I remember when I lived in Buenos Aires, I would get so frustrated at the non-committal plans Argentines would make with me. It was perfectly normal to not call someone for six to eight weeks. I now understand that it’s part of the culture and is not at all personal, but it was a big culture shock for me. This is one of the reasons I emphasize understanding the culture being the meaning so much!

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