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I'm curious about how native speakers actually respond to the simple question of 「お元気ですか。」 I'm currently going into my third year of studying Japanese. My first-year Japanese professor impressed upon us that no matter what, always respond with 「ええ、おかげさまで。」 That always seemed very formal to me. In fact, my second-year professor often responded with just 「はい、元気」 and a Japanese friend of mine seemed surprised when I used 「おかげさまで」 to answer him.

I've done a fair bit of searching around on the internet, and I've seen mixed responses, so I'm assuming it's a very situational type of thing. When would you use 「元気です」 vs 「おかげさまで」 vs some other response?

  • Just like the exchange 「ありがとう」&「どういたしまして」, the exchange 「お元気ですか」&「はい/ええ、おかげさまで」 is actually heard among Japanese learners (and strangely, their teachers) about 800 times as often as it is heard among us "real" native speakers living in Japan. This plain fact makes this question a very difficult one to answer as no one would like to be told that they have been taught "wrong". – l'électeur Aug 3 '15 at 12:20
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    I mean, that's sort of the impression that I've gotten already. And I'd be fine being told I'm wrong as long as someone is willing to point me in the right direction. The ultimate goal is to sound more fluent, rather than unconditionally trust a beginner Japanese class, no? – charlieshades Aug 3 '15 at 12:24
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As a native Japanese speaker, I have never said お元気ですか to someone I meet almost everyday. You can tell, at a glance, if they are 元気 or not today, if you meet them everyday, right?

お元気ですか seems to me a greeting in letter or in phone call, that is, when you can't see them. You can say お元気ですか when you meet someone you haven't met for a while but still お元気でしたか or 元気だった? sound more natural to me.

Typical responses are おかげさまで and うん、元気 but it is not uncommon to talk about how actually you are/were.

「お久しぶりです。お元気でしたか」
「これは、どうも。実は、この間、風邪をひいて、ひどい目に遭いました。」
「おや、実は私もです。」

In phone call between intimate friends

「元気〜?」
「なんか、夏バテぎみ〜」
「えー、そっかー、そっちのほう、暑そうだもんね」

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    I've heard おかげさまで numerous times. very useful. – ajsmart Jul 12 '18 at 18:13
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Replying with 元気です sounds lighthearted a little bit, because お元気ですか is so rare that you won't hear it unless you meet again your acquaintance who you haven't seen for long. Well, it depends on you after all.

  • Interesting. When you say that お元気ですか is rare, do you mean that most people would just say 「元気?」 or something else entirely? – charlieshades Aug 3 '15 at 12:16
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As you said, it's all situational. You can use 「おかげさまで」 when you are asked how you are by someone that is superior to you, like your boss, 「先輩」 or professor. If replying to a friend in a conversation, you can just say 「うん、元気」. In short, it is all about social rank.

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