How do you say 「元気そうですね」 in English? If your answer uses the word "fine", then you are making a common mistake. It's better to say "You look well."
When you started learning English, maybe you learned a basic conversation like this:
John: Hi. How are you?
Suzy: I'm fine. And you?
It might have been translated a little bit like this:
Actually, there are lots of ways you can say 「元気です」 in English:
We all have our own way of answering the question "How are you?"
When you say "I'm fine" and mean 「元気です」, you are using "fine" in a very special and quite unique way. "Fine" has a lot of different meanings. Usually, "fine" is used to talk about the quality of a thing, as in the following cases:
In this case, it means the highest quality, or the best. You can also use "fine" to talk about the weather or to say that something is very thin or delicate.
Lots of people say, "I'm very fine!" However, native speakers would not say this. Why? Because "fine" is superlative (最上級), it doesn't make sense to say "I'm very fine." This is a common mistake people make. Instead of "very fine", you should say "I'm really well", "I'm great" or "I'm very well" etc.
But there is a second reason why saying "very fine" is strange. "Fine" doesn't mean "good". "Fine" (when you are talking about your mood or health) is much like "OK". When you say "I'm fine", you are saying something like "I'm OK" or "I'm am not so bad". That means "very fine" sounds like "very OK" or "very not so bad". That sounds very strange to an English speaker!
"Fine" is not a word with an enthusiastic feeling. It is a very flat, boring word most of the time.
Take this example:
A: Sorry for being late.
B: It's fine.
A is apologising. B uses the word "fine" here to mean "no problem" or "don't worry". B would not say "That's GREAT!" or "Oh my GOD! How terrible!" B doesn't want A to feel bad, so B uses a neutral response.
Here's another example:
A: What do you think of my picture?
B: It's fine.
A: "Fine"!? So it's not great...
B: No, well... It could be better.
When we use "fine", it does not sound wonderful or fantastic. It can be kind of a "grey" word — it does not have a bright and colourful image.
"Fine" can be used to mean "unhurt", "not sick" or "uninjured" as well. For example, if you are in the station and you see someone fall on the stairs. It looks really bad, so you rush to help them:
You: Oh my God! Are you OK?
Stranger: I'm fine! Thanks. I guess I was lucky.
Think about another case. You are out to lunch one day. You see one of your co-workers (Julie). You know that she called in sick and said she was going to see a doctor, but then you see her shopping! When you get back to the office after lunch, you tell one of your work friends.
You: Guess what! I saw Julie shopping when I went out to lunch.
Your work friend: Really? I thought she was supposed to be sick.
You: Yeah, I thought so too, but she looked fine!
So, how are you?