How’s it Going? 

How’s what going exactly? Obviously you don’t really need to think about that if someone asks you this question.

The correct answer is of course, Fine thanks, how are you? It’s just a greeting, so you don’t really need to tell the person how you are, though I sometimes do, especially if I have something interesting to tell them. Still, the question remains: how’s what going? And where? 

The obvious answer is your life. How’s your life going? But how can your life go anywhere? Of course when we say go in cases like this, we’re not talking about literal movement. We’re simply asking how the other person’s life is. And we could ask a question like this. We could ask How are you? or How’s life? But those don’t have the same sense of dynamism as How’s it going?

That going makes the question much more active. How are you? and How’s life? are both the present simple tense, and feel somewhat static, as they describe states. But How’s it going? has a sense of movement, partly because of the present continuous tense, and partly because of the verb to go.

And it makes sense enough that we use the verb in this way. We think of time as a continuum constantly moving forward. The past is behind us, and the future is in front of us. We feel therefore, like our lives are going somewhere.

This concept of time and our lives moving forward is so universal that we can find similar expressions in other languages. I was thinking about this recently when, while running, it occurred to me that the French phrase Comment ça va? (usually shortened to ça va, and meaning How are you?) is a direct translation of How’s it going? It had never occurred to me before  because the two expressions feel so different.

That’s largely because while English has a present simple tense (How does it go?) and the present continuous (How’s it going?) French only has one. And to me, it always feels more like the present simple, because it’s structurally closer to it. Another key difference is that Ça va? is a standard greeting in French, and can be used with anyone in any context. How’s it going? though, is quite informal in English. I think that’s again because of the continuous tense, whose sense of action feels less genteel and formal than similar expressions in the present simple  (contrast the formality of How goes it?).

This doesn’t just apply to French: you can ask Come va? in Italian, and Cómo te va? in Spanish. However strange and intimidating learning a second language might feel at times, it’s comforting to know that we all see the world in similar ways.

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