English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've seen the "how are you" questions on this forum, but mine is a bit different. I read this in the Readers Digest once:

Don't tell your friends about your indigestion. 'How are you' is a greeting; not a question.

So if it's a greeting, should it be
How are you!
How are you?
or just
How are you.

share|improve this question
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I wouldn't rely on the 'Reader's Digest' for information about English. How are you? is indubitably a question, and so requires a question mark. The fact that the speaker doesn't expect a detailed health bulletin in response is beside the point.

share|improve this answer
+1 because I agree, of course. But I think that "Readers' Digest" just cited the expression here, just thinking that punctuation wasn't necessary since everyone knows what it is, hence OP's confusion. – Irene Jan 2 '12 at 8:45
The quote was actually one of those italicized quotes that appear at the end of every Readers Digest (RD) article. It was probably contributed by an RD reader. It was many years ago, so I don't even remember what punctuation they had used. Then again, couldn't 'how are you' be used solely with an exclamation mark imagining someone was shouting it to a friend? How are you!!! – Nav Jan 2 '12 at 8:48
@Irene: Yes, could well be. I can see the point the RD comment was trying to make, but it didn't make it very well. – Barrie England Jan 2 '12 at 8:52
@Nav: The voice intonation is normally that of a question when using this expression. I suppose that if you want to make a point of somebody being very happy or surprised upon meeting a friend (and convey this in writing), you could use different punctuation, such as the one you suggest. But it isn't the usual thing to do. – Irene Jan 2 '12 at 8:55

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.