What is お元気ですか (Ogenki Desu Ka)? And Why Native Speakers Don’t Use It

お元気ですか (ogenki desu ka) is an expression that is often translated to “How are you?” in English. This expression is used in both spoken conversations and in writing (letters, emails, texts, etc.)


お元気ですか is NOT commonly used by native speakers.    

One reason is that お元気ですか is a formal expression, so you wouldn’t use it with friends or family to ask them how they are doing. It is also not common to make small talk with people you don’t know well.  

In English, it is common to ask coworkers, friends, and even strangers, “how are you?” However, this is not a common practice among Japanese speakers.    

Asking someone how they are doing is only done if you haven’t seen that person for some time. Also, Japanese native speakers never would ask strangers (store employees, people you pass on the street, etc.), “how are you?” In fact, asking a stranger お元気ですか would be strange and awkward.  

So is お元気ですか (ogenki desu ka) bad Japanese? Actually, no. This is a good expression to know. You just need to know when and how to use it naturally. So let’s get right into it!

1. お元気ですか? (Ogenki Desu Ka?): How Are You?

As I mentioned, お元気ですか (ogenki desu ka) is not commonly used in Japan. This is because this expression is used only when you haven’t seen someone for a long time. We usually see our friends, classmates, or coworkers often, so we never need to ask them this question. 

Also, since お元気ですか is a formal and polite expression, you would only use it with people who have a high social status, like your boss or teacher. You could also use it with people you are not close with to be polite.  

Casual/Informal Version: 元気? (Genki?)

You could make this expression more casual by dropping the honorific お (o) before 元気, like this:

元気ですか?(genki desu ka?

However, this is still somewhat formal because of the ですか (desu ka). Therefore, 元気ですか is too casual to use with people who have high social status but too formal to use with your friends or family.  

In Japan, it is definitely better to be too polite than too casual. Speaking too casually to someone can be seen as rude. If you’re talking to anyone you would like to be respectful to, I recommend using the polite expression お元気ですか (ogenki desu ka).  

However, if you’re speaking to people you are close with, like your friends or family (that you haven’t seen in a while), the most casual and natural expression would be:

元気? (genki?)

Saying 元気 with a rising tone (to indicate a question) is a very natural way to ask people you are close to (or who have a lower social status than you, like kids) how they are doing. See examples #3 & 4 below.  


1. You see your neighbor who you haven’t seen in months:

(Ohisashiburi desu. Ogenki desu ka?)
Long time no see.    How are you?

2. You happen to run into a teacher you haven’t seen since you graduated:

(Konnichiwa. Ogenki desu ka?)
Hello.  How are you?

 3. Students come back to school after their summer vacation and see their friends:

    智子: おはよう!  元気?
Tomoko: (Ohayō! Genki?)
Tomoko: Good morning!  How are you?

    道子: おはよう! 元気だよ!
Michiko: (Ohayō! Genki da yo!)
Michiko: Morning! I’m good!

4. You are asked to talk to a class of elementary school students. In your greeting, you ask the students how they are:

(Minna, genki?)
Everyone, how are you doing?

2. お元気でしたか? (Ogenki Deshita Ka?): How Have You Been?

 お元気でしたか (ogenki deshita ka) is the past tense of お元気ですか (ogenki desu ka). This would be translated into English as, “How have you been?” 

This is also a formal and polite expression that you use with people with a higher social status than you and who you haven’t seen in a while.  


田中さん: 吉田さん、お久しぶりです。いつ日本に帰国されたんですか?
Tanaka-san: (Yoshida-san, ohisashiburi desu. Itsu nihon ni kikoku saretan desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Long time no see, Mr. Yoshida. When did you come back to Japan?

吉田さん: 先週戻ってきたばかりですよ。
Yoshida-san: (Senshū modotte kita bakari desu yo.)
Mr. Yoshida: I just came back last week.

田中さん: 一年ぶりですね。お元気でしたか
Tanaka-san: (Ichi nen buri desu ne. Ogenki deshita ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: We haven’t seen each other for a year, right?    How have you been?

吉田さん: はい。元気ですよ
Yoshida-san: (Hai. Genki desu yo.)
Mr. Yoshida: Yes, I’ve been good.

Casual/Informal Version: 元気だった (Genki Datta)

To make this expression casual, remove the honorific お (o) before the 元気. Then change でした (deshita) to the casual だった (datta).  

(Genki datta?)
How (have) you been?

This is a very casual expression, so you should only use it with people close to you, like friends and family.


智子: おはよう!  元気だった?
Tomoko: (Ohayō! Genki datta?)
Tomoko: Good morning!    How have you been?

Answer (Affirmative):

道子: おはよう! 元気だったよ
Michiko: (Ohayō! Genki datta yo!)
Michiko: Good morning! I’ve been good!

Answer (Negative):

道子: おはよう!元気じゃなかったよ。夏休み中、骨折して入院していたんだよ。
Michiko: (Ohayō! Genki janakatta yo. Natsu-yasumichū kossetsu shite nyūin shiteitan da yo.)
Michiko: Morning! I haven’t been so good. During the summer vacation, I was hospitalized with a broken bone.

What Does 元気 (Genki) Mean?

  • 元 (gen) means beginning, origin, the source of something.
  • 気 (ki) means energy, spirit, mind, air, atmosphere, or mood.

When these two characters are put together to form 元気, it means “full of energy, healthy, being well, or to be in good health.”

Let’s check out some examples of 元気 (genki) being used this way.


1. 子供は元気いっぱいだ。
(Kodomo wa genki ippai da.)
Children are full of energy.

2. 田中さんはもう80歳なのに、とても元気だ。
(Tanaka-san wa mō hachijussai nanoni totemo genki da.)
Ms. Tanaka is already 80 years old but still in good health.

How to Answer お元気ですか (Ogenki Desu Ka) and お元気でしたか (Ogenki Deshita Ka) Naturally

There are many ways you can answer someone if they ask you お元気ですか?  

Here are some of the most natural ways:

1. 元気です (Genki Desu): I’m Good

The simplest way to answer these questions is by saying “元気です (genki desu.).”

Notice that you do not say the honorific お (o) in your answer. Using the お would be honoring yourself, not the person you are talking to.  

  • Correct: 元気です (genki desu)
  • Wrong: 元気です (ogenki desu)


Tanaka-san: (Konnichiwa. Ogenki desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello. How are you?

Correct Answer:

(Hai. Genki desu.)
Yes. I’m good.

Wrong Answer:

(Hai. Ogenki desu.)

 2. お陰様で (Okagesama De): Thanks to You (I’m Great)

お陰様で (okagesama de) is an expression to express appreciation for someone’s help leading to a positive outcome. It’s like saying “thanks to you” in English.  

This expression is used in different types of situations in Japan.  

For example, if a customer asks you, “how’s your business going?” you could say, “お陰様で (okagesama de) – Thanks to you, everything is going well.”  

Even if someone asks you, “お元気ですか (ogenki desu ka)?” you can reply with お陰様で (okagesama de).” This is a very polite and modest way to answer – Thanks to you, I’m doing well.

However, it is a formal expression, so you wouldn’t use it with your family or friends.  


上司: お元気ですか?
Jōshi: (Ogenki desu ka?)
Boss: How are you?

健二: はい。お陰様で
Kenji: (Hai. Okagesama de.)
Kenji: Yes. I’m good, thanks to you.

3. 元気ではありません (Genki Dewa Arimasen) / 元気じゃないです (Genki Janai Desu): I’m Not Doing Well

Sometimes, we might be under the weather, feel tired, or are just having a bad day. If you would like to answer honestly, you could say:

  • 元気ではありません (genki dewa arimasen): Polite version
  • 元気じゃないです (genki janai desu): Casual version

It is very straightforward to tell someone you’re not feeling well, but sometimes you need to be honest about your feelings.  


田中さん: お元気ですか?
Tanaka-san: (Ogenki desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: How are you?

松本さん:  元気ではありませ。実は昨日まで入院していて、まだあまり調子が良くないんですよ。
Matsumoto-san: (Genki dewa arimasen. Jitsu wa kinō made nyūin shiteite mada amari chōshi ga yokunain desu yo.)
Mr.Matsumoto: I’m not doing well. Actually, I was in the hospital until yesterday, and I still don’t feel well.  

4. あまり元気ではありません (Amari Genki Dewa Arimasen): I’m Not Doing So Well.

The pattern あまり〜ない (amarinai) means “not very, not much~.” This pattern is combined with the negative form of an adjective or verb to express the feeling of “not much” or “not really.”   

How to Use Amari:

  • あまり (amari) + Negative verb
  • あまり (amari) + Noun + じゃない (janai) / ではない (dewa nai)*
  • あまり (amari) + i-adjective in plain, negative form
  • あまり (amari) + na-adjective + じゃない (janai)/ ではない (dewa nai)

*Note:  ではない (dewa nai) is more formal/polite than じゃない (janai). You can use the masu-form (masen) of verbs to make this expression even more polite—for example, あまり元気ではありません。(Amari genki dewa arimasen.)


1. 田中さん: 中村さん、こんにちは。お元気ですか?
Tanaka-san: (Nakamura san, konnichiwa. Ogenki desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello, Mr. Nakamura. How are you?

中村さん:  あまり元気ではありません。最近足が痛くてね・・・。
Nakamura-san: (Amari genki dewa arimasen. Saikin ashi ga itakute ne.)
Mr. Nakamura: Not so good. My feet hurt these days.  

When native Japanese speakers talk casually, あまり (amari) is often pronounced as あんまり (anmari). Saying it like this makes it more informal, but using it with people you know well is natural.  


1. 田中さん: 中村さん、こんにちは。お元気ですか?
Tanaka-san: (Nakamura san, konnichiwa. Ogenki desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello, Mr. Nakamura. How are you?

    中村さん:  あんまり元気じゃないです。風邪気味でね…。
Nakamura-san: (Anmari genki janaidesu. Kazegimi de ne…)
Mr. Nakamura: Not so good. I feel like I have a slight cold.  

5. 調子が悪いです (Chōshi Ga Warui Desu) / 調子が良くないです (Chōshi Ga Yokunai Desu): I Don’t Feel Good

The expressions 調子が悪いです (chōshi ga warui desu) and 調子が良くないです (chōshi ga yokunai desu) sound a little softer than 元気ではない (genki dewa nai) and 元気じゃない (genki janai). If you don’t feel well, you should use these expressions to tell people how you feel.


田中さん: 中村さん、こんにちは。お元気ですか?
Tanaka-san: (Nakamura san, konnichiwa. Ogenki desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello, Mr. Nakamura. How are you?

中村さん:  調子が悪いです。/ 調子が良くないです
Nakamura-san: (Chōshi ga warui desu. / Chōshi ga yokunai desu.)
Mr. Nakamura: I don’t feel good.

田中さん: どうされたんですか?
Tanaka-san: (Dō saretan desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: What happened?

中村さん: 最近ちょっと疲れていてね。
Nakamura-san: (Saikin chotto tsukareteite ne.)
Mr. Nakamura: I’m a little tired these days.

While 調子が悪いです and 調子が良くないです mean the same thing, 調子が良くないです (chōshi ga yokunai desu) is a softer expression. The nuance of this expression is, “I don’t feel so good.” 調子が悪いです is more direct, meaning “I feel bad.”

6. まあまあです (Māmā Desu): So-So

If you don’t feel particularly good or bad, you can say まあまあです (māmā desu) to mean “so-so.” It is a semi-casual expression, but you can use it with people of higher social status if conversing casually.  


田中さん: 中村さん、こんにちは。お元気ですか?
Tanaka-san: (Nakamura san, konnichiwa. Ogenki desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello, Mr. Nakamura. How are you?

中村さん:  まあまあです
Nakamura-san: (Māmā desu.)
Mr. Nakamura: So-so.

Casual/Informal Version: まあね (Mā Ne)

The simplest way to turn まあまあです into a casual expression is by dropping the です. Just saying “まあまあ (māmā)” is perfectly fine for informal conversations.  

Another way to make this expression more casual is by saying “まあね (mā ne).” まあね is very commonly used between friends and family. 


道子: 元気?
Michiko: (Genki?)
Michiko: How are you?/How have you been?

智子: まあまあ/まあね。
Tomoko: (Māmā / Māne.)
Tomoko: So-so.

7. なんとかやっています (Nantoka Yatteimasu): I’m Just Getting By / I’m Rolling with the Punches

なんとかやっています (nantoka yatteimasu) has a nuance of “doing okay” even in a difficult situation. This is a formal and polite expression. 


1. 田中さん: 中村さん、こんにちは。お元気ですか?
Tanaka-san: (Nakamura san, konnichiwa. Ogenki desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello, Mr. Nakamura. How are you?

    中村さん: 忙しいですが、なんとかやっています
Nakamura-san: (Isogashī desu ga nantoka yatteimasu.)
Mr. Nakamura: I’ve been busy but keeping my head above water.  

2. 田中さん: 山田さん、こんにちは。お元気ですか?
Tanaka-san: (Yamada san, konnichiwa. Ogenkidesuka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello, Mr. Yamada. How are you?

    山田さん: 最近は体調があまり良くないですが、なんとかやっています
Yamada-san: (Saikin wa taichō ga amari yokunai desu ga, nantoka yatteimasu. )
Mr. Yamada: I’m not feeling well these days and just getting by.

Casual/Informal Version: なんとかやってる (Nantoka Yatteru) なんとか(ね) (Nantoka(Ne))

You can make なんとかやっています (nantoka yatteimasu) more casual by simply changing the verb from the masu-form to the plain form and then dropping the い (i):  

なんとかやっています (nantoka yatteimasu) –>なんとかやっている (nantoka yatteiru) –> なんとかやって (nantoka yatteru)

Or, you could drop the やってる part altogether and say “なんとか(ね) (nantoka (ne)).


健史: 久しぶり。元気だった?
Takeshi: (Hisashiburi. Genki datta?)
Takeshi: Long time no see. How have you been?

聡: なんとかね。/ なんとかやってるよ。
Satoshi: (Nantoka ne./ Nantoka yatteru yo.)
Satoshi: I’m just getting by.

3. 普通 (Futsū) / 普通だよ(Futsū Dayo): Not So Bad

普通 (futsū) and 普通だよ(futsū dayo) means “as usual,” but in this case, it can be translated as “not so bad.” Let’s check out an example conversation.  


健史: 聡、元気?
Takeshi: (Satoshi, genki?)
Takeshi: Satoshi, how are you?

聡: うん。普通
Satoshi: (Un. Futsū.)
Satoshi: Yeah, I’m not doing so bad.

Other Ways to Ask “How are You?” in Japanese.

As I mentioned, “お元気ですか” and “元気” are used when you haven’t seen someone in a while. Here are a couple of other casual expressions you can use with your close friends or family. However, unlike 元気, you could use these expressions with people you often see. Use these expressions sparingly, as using them too often would sound unnatural.  

1. 最近どう? (Saikin Dō?): What’s Up? / How You Been?

最近 (saikin) means “recently,” and “どう ()” means “how,” so “最近どう? (saikin dō?)” can mean “how are you recently” or “what’s up?”

You use this friendly expression to ask how someone has been recently. Since 最近どう is very casual and informal, you should only use it with people who are close to you and not with people who have a higher social status than you.  

When you talk to people who are older or have a higher social status, you can say “最近いかがですか? (Saikin ikaga desu ka?)” to be more polite. (example 2 below) 


1. 健史: おはよう!最近どう? (Casual Version)
Takeshi: (Ohayō! Saikin dō?)
Takeshi: Good morning! What’s up?

2. 田中さん: こんにちは、佐藤さん。最近いかがですか? (Polite Version)
Tanaka-san: (Konnichiwa, Satō san. Saikin ikaga desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello, Mr. Sato.  How have you been recently?

2. 調子はどう? (Chōshi Wa Dō?): How’s it Going?

This phrase is used to ask how someone feels, but it can also be used to ask about things like school or work. This expression is only used with people who are close to you (not appropriate for people who are older or have a higher social status than you).

If you talk to someone who is older or has high social status, you can use the expression 調子はいかがですか?(Chōshi wa ikaga desu ka?) to be more polite. (example 2 below)


1. 健史: おはよう!調子はどう? (Casual Version)
Takeshi: (Ohayō! Chōshi wa dō?)
Takeshi: Good morning!  How’s it going?

2. 田中さん: こんにちは、佐藤さん。調子はいかがですか? (Polite Version)
Tanaka-san: (Konnichiwa, Satō-san. Chōshi wa ikaga desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Hello, Mr. Sato.  How’s it going?

How to Answer Naturally in Japanese:  

If someone asks you “最近どう?” or “調子はどう?” the most natural way to answer would be by telling them about your situation. For example, you can say you’ve been busy, tired, or bored.  

However, if nothing out of the ordinary is happening in your life, a natural expression you can use to answer is: 

  • 特に変わらないよ (toku ni kawaranai yo): Casual/Informal Version
  • 特に変わりありません (toku ni kawari arimasen): Polite/Formal Version

特に (toku ni) means special, unique, or particular. 変わらない (kawaranai) and 変わりありません (kawari arimasen) both mean “no changes.”  

特に変わらない and 特に変わりありません mean “there is nothing in particular” or “nothing much” in English.    

Example:  Casual Speech

健史: おはよう!調子はどう?/最近どう?
Takeshi: (Ohayō! Chōshi wa dō?/ Saikin dō?)
Takeshi: Good morning! How’s it going? / What’s up?

聡: 特に変わらないよ。
Satoshi: (Toku ni kawaranai yo.)
Satoshi: Nothing in particular.

Example:  Formal Speech

田中さん: おはようございます。調子はいかがですか?/最近いかがですか?
Tanaka-san: (Ohayō gozaimasu. Chōshi wa ikaga desu ka?/ Saikin ikaga desu ka?)
Mr. Tanaka: Good morning. How are you doing? / How have you been recently?

山田さん: 特に変わりありません。
Satoshi🙁Toku ni kawari arimasen.)
Satoshi: Same old, same old (nothing particularly exciting or bad has happened).

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Yumi Nakata

Yumi is a native speaker of Japanese. She is living in Kanagawa, Japan, raising her three kids. She studied English as an exchange student in Washington state for a year. The days she spent with her American friends are some of the greatest memories of her life.

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