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I am not a native speaker. I really want to know what's the difference between Hi and Hey in writing an email? In daily conversation? Is it too girlish or childish for a man to say hey in his email? What's the bottom line in using them?

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Hi and hey are two different expressions, the first is the informal equivalent of hello whilst the second is used to grab somebody's attention as in "Hey, what's that unidentified flying object?", "Hey, did you see last week's episode of ...?"; "Hey man, how you're doing?" and "Hey man, how's it going?" You don't use hey to address someone in an email. –  Mari-Lou A Jun 20 at 0:37
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Thank you. Because I always see a lot of girls using that, that's why I ask. –  Daniel Jun 20 at 0:49
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@Mari-LouA: I grew up with the assumptions you presented in your comment. However, I have found that Americans under about 35 years of age tend to say hey instead of hi, which they hardly ever say. It's a case of an invasive interjection. –  John Lawler Jun 20 at 5:09
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@JohnLawler that's why I asked the OP where he was living? Hey is not a greeting that I read or hear from my British friends or family, instead hiya is frequently used in emails and in speech but that's quite different from hey. –  Mari-Lou A Jun 20 at 5:47
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@Mari-LouA I would not use "Hey" in a work setting - unless the content was personal (i.e. want to go for a beer after work?). It's not generally used with a name - you just open the mail with "Hey". –  Matt Thrower Jun 20 at 11:27
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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

As a greeting, Hey is more informal than Hi. I wouldn't use Hey in an office e-mail.

Hey is not considered childish or girlish. Most commonly used amongst young men I'd guess.

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This must be regional. Adults in the UK don't use Hey, in fact it would be considered rude, more like an alternative to Oi. Hi is quite informal already! –  JamesRyan Jun 20 at 11:00
    
I am from the UK and in my 40s, and I find "Hey" very rude. As James says, it's like someone shouting "oi!" at you. Definitely not for business communication, especially with older people. –  S List Jun 20 at 11:48
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It's not being used to call for someone's attention in this context, I wouldn't ever use it that way either. It's more like a lazy hi. –  Neil Jun 20 at 13:46
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@JamesRyan I'm from the UK and I'd use "Hey" with close friends, or people I see every day. (10 years ago I would have seen "Hey" as American, but not any more.) As Neil said, you don't shout it or say it abruptly, it's said slowly and lazily. Similar to how you'd pronounce "Hi" but possibly warmer. In summary, it could be generational (I'm late 20s and most of my friends are mid 30s) but I disagree that it's regional. –  starsplusplus Jun 20 at 14:22
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E-mails

Hey or Heya are much less formal. You could use them if you were writing to friends.

Hey Dave, not spoken to you in a while. How're things? What've you been up to?

You could possibly use it in a more casual email (like a single question) to a colleague that you speak to often:

Hey Bob, just wondering if you've had a reply from Customer X yet?

Hi is the standard greeting for office e-mails. If you're not sure, stick with Hi.

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the information on [foo]. Do you know whether item 10 is for all customers or just Y?

I'll get back to you on [question] when I've had more time to look at the data.

Regards,

George

You could also use Hi for friends.

Conversation

Hey or Heya can be used to greet people you already know. Friends or colleagues. It's warmer than Hi so probably isn't suited to colleagues that you're less close to.

  • Hey Dave, glad you could make it. How're you?

  • Hey guys, what's up?

Hi can be used to greet people you already know, or those you don't.

  • Hi Bob, how's Sylvia?

  • Hi Kate, nice to meet you. How do you know Dan?

There is no gender differentiation in who can say either term, or who they are said to.

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How do you know Dan??? Did you mean, Hi, do you know Dan? (It doesn't make sense otherwise). I wouldn't say Hi let alone Hey/a if I were introduced to a colleague for the first time, but that's more a question of etiquette than appropriate usage. –  Mari-Lou A Jun 20 at 5:54
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@Mari-LouA Unless it is a typo, the speaker, who already knows Dan, is questioning Kate under what circumstances she initially met Dan. To which Kate might reply Dan works in my office. –  Frank Jun 20 at 6:20
    
@Frank yes, but it's still not clear. Is this a conversation between two people; Bob and Kate, or are they separate examples? What relevance has "How do you know Dan?" in this mini conversation? And exactly how does one pronounce How're? –  Mari-Lou A Jun 20 at 6:26
    
@Mari-LouA I see what you mean - I read 'the quoted text' as two distinct conversations, one between someone (not Sylvia) and Bob and a completely different one between someone (not Dan) and Kate. How're would be pronounced the same as bower as in bower bird or Eddie Bauer. Much less 'formal' than the staccato of How are you. In some BrE dialects you can shorten it further to Hows you and even further to Ow do (How are you doing). –  Frank Jun 20 at 6:59
    
@Mari-LouA It was just an example conversation between two people who've just met. "How do you know [host]?" is a fairly common conversation starter in any situation (party, wedding, gathering at someone's house) where you've all been invited by a common person, at least in my area. –  starsplusplus Jun 20 at 14:15
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Hi is used to greet someone and is a shortened version of hello. "Hello George". "Hi Mary". Hey was used to beckon someone. "Hey boy! Come here!". It is in recent times that Hi became too formal whilst meeting friends and Hey somehow found it's way into such colloquial meetings. "Hey Mary, How have you been?" If you are going to be using the written word or an email, stick to using Hi.

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I agree with Mari-Lou A's statements, but hey can also be used for a very informal greeting, during an informal conversation. In an email, the person will write dear X or hello or hi.

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Speaking as a native english speaker living in england, I occasionally greet my friends with any of: Hi, Hey, Hola, Yo, Dobradien, Ciao, or Wazzup, although of course never bonjour (I am english, after all)*.

In other words, when casually greeting a friend, or even when meeting someone in a casual setting, you can say pretty much anything. In an email or other written context, I would always use "Hi" or something more formal ("Dear X", "To whom it may concern", etc).

Nowadays, "Hello" tends to sound a little stilted, although no one would fault you for using it, especially if you have an accent.

Supplementary to this, I present for your consideration: hot dog squirrel comet

* This is a joke. England and France have a long history/tradition of rivalry.

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Capital letters for English, England? Where's your pride? :) –  Mari-Lou A Jun 20 at 9:09
    
You know that the hot dog squirrel comet article is citing work by Christian <insert-french-word-here> Benoît?! –  syneticon-dj Jun 20 at 11:28
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