Do you know how we really say hello in the UK?

Have you learned that British people say “Good morning”, “Good afternoon” and “Good evening” to greet each other? Perhaps your teacher also told you that we say “Hi”, “Hello” or “Nice to meet you” when we meet?

But did you know that while people in the UK do sometimes use these greetings, the majority of people there don’t use them much at all because they are too formal! The real greeting that we use are not taught because they are not in the textbooks that language schools buy, and also not in the exams that students must pass.

We bet you didn’t know that, right?

At Top Flight English we are going to take the lid off this issue, and help you to speak real, everyday English – things that text books do not teach. It will tell you what we say; explain its origin and meaning; and show you how we respond.

After reading this article and learning the phrases, you will be able to understand what people are saying to you – and reply in a suitable style with real confidence.

Let’s start with a few examples:

1-You are walking along a street, when someone smiles at you and says “Y’alright?”

2-You are in a café, where the server says, “Yes, love?”

3-You are visiting a famous London market, where you want to buy some fruit, and the sales man says “What’ll it be?” or ‘Yes, guv?”

So what do these things they mean? And are these people even speaking in English?

Well, the good news is that they are indeed speaking English (!) and in each case, the phrase being used is an English greeting, but each phrase means something slightly different, according to the situation. As follows:

Example No1 – ‘Y’alright?’

Origins and grammar: the phrase ‘Y’alright’ is a modern contraction of “Are you alright?”. Sometimes the speaker will add a word like ‘pal’, ‘mate’ or ‘chuck’, onto the end, like this: “Y’alright, mate?”. All of these words mean ‘my friend’, so the speaker is basically saying “Hello, my friend.”

First meaning: the person is saying ‘hello’, but they are doing it by asking “Are you alright?”, which is another way of saying “How are you?” This is a question we often ask our friends and acquaintances when we meet up for a socialising. You can respond by saying: “Hi”, “Hiya”, “Hello” or “Y’alright?” any of these is suitable.

Second meaning: we do also use this to say hello to a stranger when we are passing them in the street. It is a way of being polite and friendly to them.You can respond by smiling smiling and nodding your head, while you say “Hi”, “Hiya” or “Hello.”

Third meaning: sometimes a waiter, server or barman will ask “Y’alright”, which is a way of asking “Would you like to eat or drink something?’ In response you can ask for your preferred item: ‘Hi there. Could I have a beer?” or say “Hi, thanks. No, I’m fine” or “Hi, thanks. I’m good.” This is a polite and friendly way of saying “No”.

Note:  Y’alright?’ is a friendly greeting, and you will hear this used casually all the time. It is important to know that when someone says this to you, they are not actually asking you to tell them about your illnesses or a recent visit to the doctor!

People will be impressed that a non-native speaker knows these colloquial phrases! Phonetics: jarajt?

Example No2 – “Yes, love?”

Grammar: this is an abbreviation of the question “What can I bring you, my love”, and the phrase “my love” is affectionate and very friendly.

Meaning: WhaIn this case the server is just asking what you want or need. This phrase can be used in shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels or anywhere else where you buy something. This is not an insult and it does not mean that the server is in love with you!

How to respond: you can respond by saying “I’m fine, thanks” – which means “I don’t need anything, thanks” – or you can ask for what you need, for example “Do you have this jacket in a smaller size, please?”

Example No3 – “What’ll it be?” and “Yes, guv?”:

Grammar and origin: the first question means ‘What would you like to order?”, with the noun ‘your order’ being replaced with ‘it’. In the second phrase the words “Yes, Governor” have been abbreviated to “Yes, Guv”, which means “Yes, boss”. The phrase is historic. It
was used by a servant, tradesman or tenant when they were speaking to their supervisor, employer or landlord. People use these phrases to show you respect and to ask what you would like to have.

How to respond: you can respond by placing your order in the normal way, but do not use the word “Governor” in your response because it is only used by people who have lived in the UK all their lives and who are part of that culture. If you use this phrase when you do not come from the UK and have an foreign accent, it will be seen as an insult and possibly as an attempt to make the other person
look ridiculous.

Other ways of saying hello

Apart from “Hello” and “Nice to meet you”, there are many other informal greetings people in the UK use. Some of them will seem to be a bit personal to foreigners country, but they are intended just to be friendly. Here are some examples of phrases, their meanings and the responses you can give:

Greeting                                                Meaning                                        Reply

Hi /Hiya /Hey                                         Hello                                                Hi, Hiya

Hello darlin’/love                                  Hello, darling                                  Hi, Hiya, Hello

Ay up (duck)                                           Hello, my girl                                   Hi, Hiya, Hello

Y’alright mate/pal/chuck?                 How are you?                                  Hi, Hiya, Hello
Y’alright

Y’okay?                                                   Are you OK?                                    Hi, Y’okay? Y’alright?

How’re ya doin’?                                   How are you?                                  I’m good/fine thanks. And you?

How’s it goin’?                                      How is it going?                               I’m good/fine thanks. And you?

How are you?                                       How are you?                                    I’m good/fine thanks. And you?

Welcome! (Formal)                             Welcome                                             Thank you. It’s nice  to be here.

Nice to meet you. (Formal)              Nice to meet you                               Nice to meet you too.

D’ya have a good trip?                      How was your trip?                           It was okay/fine/awful!

How do you do?

The phrase “how do you do?” is a special phrase that many foreigners misunderstand.

This is a VERY formal greeting that we ONLY use the first time we meet someone. It means ‘I’m pleased to meet you’ or ‘It’s nice to meet you’. It does NOT mean ‘How are you?’ !!

When someone uses this phrase, they are NOT asking about your health and they do not want you to talk about it.

How to respond: it is NOT appropriate to say “I’m fine, thank you” or “Nice to meet you too” because this shows that you don’t understand British customs and culture. If you do say “I’m fine”, people will not say anything to you, but they will smile because they have just said to you “It’s nice to meet you” and you have responded with “I’m fine”, which does not quite work!!

When someone says “How do you do?”, we respond by repeating the same phrase back to them: “How do you do?”. At the same time we shake their hand with a nice, firm handshake and we make good eye contact.

The Thing about “Cheers!”

“Cheers’ is a very informal word that you will hear a lot in the UK and America. When it is said quickly, it sounds like ‘Chiz’, and it can have quite a few different meanings, depending on the situation.

Linguistically “Cheers” is an abbreviation of ‘Cheerio’ which means ‘goodbye’ and so people often use it when they are parting from each other after a meeting.

Secondly, we use ‘cheers’ to say ‘thank you’ and so you may hear this word during conversation or find it in emails when someone wants to show you their gratitude.

In its third meaning, we say ‘cheers’ when we are raising our glasses to have a drink with our friends. In this context it means ‘let’s drink to your good health’ or ‘I wish you good health’.

The grammar of “Cheers”

‘Cheers’ is also a plural countable noun meaning ‘an audible shout of praise’. For example, when we want to show our appreciation for a football goal, we may shout “hurray!” at a footballer who has shot the goal. This shouting is known as a ‘cheer’.

At parties, when we want to congratulate someone on a big achievement, we shout “hip-hip hooray!…hip-hip hooray!….hip-hip hooray!” three times. This is called ‘giving someone three cheers’. It is fun and everyone joins in, shouting very loudly!

The word ‘cheer’ can be used as a verb too. It has a regular conjugation – I cheer, you cheer, he/she/it cheers, we cheer, you cheer, they cheer.

We also use the word as an adjective (‘he is a cheerful man’) which means ‘he is happy’, or as an adverb ‘he looked at her cheerfully’.

So, in conclusion, you have now learned how we really say hello in the UK, and you have a much bigger social vocabulary for responding.

Cheers (!) for reading this blog, and keep looking out for more revelations about English on TopFlightEnglish.com.