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I've heard this phrase from various British people: "You alright" (comes out as a slurred "y'rite") and I'm always a bit confused on how to respond. From context, it seems to have two meanings (correct me if I'm wrong):

  1. equivalent to an American saying "How are you" in passing
  2. are you being served / can I help you, e.g. from the barman at a pub

In case 1, is it expected of me to say "yes" as in, yes, I'm alright, which would be equivalent to saying I'm fine in response to the American "how are you"?

And then should I ask "are you alright" back, as I would if I were saying I'm fine, you? (in the US it would be a bit rude to say "I'm fine" without asking how about you...)

In the second usage, I haven't been helped yet, should I say "no"?

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    'How do you do' (especially without the question mark!) may validly be taken as a synonym of 'Howdy' or 'Hi' (but it's not incorrect or even overly gauche to respond with a 'I'm doing well, thanks; how about you?'). I think the solicitous nature of 'You alright' requires an answer for politeness, and a reciprocation. '[I'm] f/Fine [thanks]. [How about] y/You?' is standard. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 16 '15 at 9:50
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    I'm British and I have lived in various parts of Britain. This sounds like a regional thing. Are you living in Britain at the moment? If so where? It would help if you could give a couple of scenarios with dialog. – chasly from UK Oct 16 '15 at 9:52
  • I'm living in Brussels, but travel to the South of England quite a bit. I heard it a lot on the Isle of Wight this summer for instance. I thought of it this morning because a British coworker (we work near each other on the same floor, but we never work on the same projects) passed me briefly in hall and said "you alright?" and it caught me off guard – Brusselssprout Oct 16 '15 at 9:54
  • An important note to be added here is that 'alright' is technically grammatically incorrect. Although this is colloquially acceptable, the correct word(s) is 'all right'. – TheLimeTrees Oct 16 '15 at 11:36
  • @TheLimeTrees Orthographically incorrect (and I am currently being picky over semantics). – Aeon Akechi Jul 11 '16 at 11:14
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You are correct, there are two meanings which you mention. The first one has a couple of possible responses:

1 - yes, yeah or something else short and semi-positive
2 - a response of 'alright' itself can be appropriate for passing, which means "yes, thank you, and yourself?' That could just be a Northern thing though.

For the barman/waitress/service person, you can either keep things short as per the point above, or you can engage them in your request/order to facilitate teh service.

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    Hi gabe - Are you British? I'm guessing you are because my first thought was 'Northern' as well. However the OP says it's Isle of Wight which is hardly northern considering that it's off the south coast of England! – chasly from UK Oct 16 '15 at 9:57
  • @chaslyfromUK I am. I come from the north east of England, but reside in Wales – gabe3886 Oct 16 '15 at 10:01
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    I agree with gabe's response version 2. Just nod and say 'Alright'. In the case of the barman it is easy to discover the correct response. Simply spend a few moments observing what other customers do and imitate them! – chasly from UK Oct 16 '15 at 10:13
  • I live in Berks, but spend a lot of time in Manchester and Norfolk. I don't see y'rite as a regionalism at all. I would think you would be just as likely to hear it in London, Manchester, Brmingham, Leeds, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Chipping Sodbury as on the Isle of Wight. – WS2 Oct 16 '15 at 11:11
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    @WS2 I mentioned it as a possible regionalism as I know how widely language varies throughout the UK, and wasn't sure how far reaching it was. It's good to know that it is pretty much universal though – gabe3886 Oct 16 '15 at 11:52
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Part of the key to this is matching the length of response to the length of greeting. 'y'alright?' or just 'alright' tends to be said as an acknowledgement in passing and mostly isn't a conversation opener or and invitation to stop and chat. It can be, bt mostly isn't. You would judge this by whether the person slows/stops and how much they elide the phrase. I first encountered this in the West Midlands/Black Country in the form of 'you'm a'right?', where the proper response seemed to be 'Ahh' (which is my rendering of the YamYam affirmative. I don't know the technical speech terms, but it is said far back in the mouth, with a hint of an 'r' and the mouth not very open. So it isn't like when you say 'Ahh' at the Doctor's. In fact, I'm getting funny looks here, you sort of drop and retract the lower jaw to pronounce it properly. Anyway, all it means is 'yes'.) Now that I'm back in Scotland I reply with 'Aye', and it's quite easy to elide that with a questioning 'you?' to return the question if there seems to be time. if someone is striding down a corridor without pause, you don't bother with the 'you?' I really don't know what the proper reply would be in parts of the UK where the standard word for 'yes' is 'yes', somehow it seems to clipped to work, perhaps its more of a 'yeah'? That would also elide with 'you?' quite well. Actually, my increasing view on this over the years is that it is sufficient to make a vowel sound, it needn't be a word. Of course if it is all a little more formal and your interlocutor pauses and says clearly 'How are you, alright?' don't just grunt. If the question is coming from a barman, don't say 'No' if you haven't been served yet, that risks seeming rude and confrontational. Just make a pleasantry and give your order. I

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Although "Y'alright" may sound like a question and is delivered as a question, it is not a question. It is simply a greeting. The best way to respond is to just say "Hi" and maybe ask how the person is.

In the case of the barman, if he asks "Y'alright?" he is literally asking if you are alright and if you need a drink. The best way to respond would be to say hello and order.

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