German Greetings: How To Say Hello in German

It can be tricky to address a German speaker in the right way. Very often, you must decide carefully to be either formal or informal, especially with the latter. You wouldn’t want to offend anyone and start off on the wrong foot.

In this article we will show you some of the most common ways to interact with any German speaker you may meet on your travels, at school, or at work. Keep these phrases and words handy when traveling or speaking to someone online or over the phone, as they will make any German speaker you meet happy to engage in conversation with you.

Was geht ab?” is the German equivalent for “What’s up?”, which is an informal way of greeting and asking about the other person’s wellbeing. Such casual ways of greeting someone should, however, be reserved for friends and family and not be used in the workplace. As a rule, always use the more formal way of speaking when in Germany, namely, with Sie (formal you) instead of du (familiar you). Reviewing the German alphabet may help with pronunciation.

Formality guide

How do you make sure to address someone in the appropriate way? Generally, you can rely on your gut feeling. Anyone of authority or an older age than yourself should be addressed formally. If you are unsure, always opt for the formal Sie first and let yourself be corrected. Any speaker will be happy to tell you that you can address them via du if you are on a first-name basis, or, as they like to say: duzen.

Initial greetings: How to say hello in German

To cover the basics of greeting someone in German, here is an overview of greetings:

GermanEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Hallo!HelloHelloStandard greetingNeutral
Guten Morgen!Good morningGood morningMornings (until 10 or 11 a.m.)Slightly formal
Guten TagHello / Good day / Good afternoonGood dayUntil the sun goes downSlightly formal
Guten AbendGood eveningGood eveningAfter the sun goes downSlightly formal

Introductions and welcome

When meeting someone for the very first time, you’ll be better off knowing how to respond. You can opt to say “Freut Mich” (“Nice to meet you”) after the introduction, or you can always reply with “Ebenso” (literally “likewise”) in case they said it first.

GermanEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Wie heißen Sie?What is your name?How are you called?IntroductionsFormal
Wie heißt du?What’s your name?How are you called?IntroductionsInformal
Es ist schön, Sie kennenzulernen.Nice to meet youIt’s a pleasure to get to know youIntroductionsFormal
Freut michNice to meet youMuch pleasureIntroductionsInformal
Herzlich willkommen! Genieße deinen Aufenthalt!Welcome! Enjoy your stay!Welcome! Enjoy your stay!When someone is visiting your cityInformal

Secondary greetings

When you have broken the ice with a greeting, asking how someone is doing is the polite thing to do and shows interest in the person you are conversing with. However, it is not uncommon to receive an honest response compared to most English-speaking countries, where the polite answer is always “I’m doing well.”

When asked how you are, the most common response is: “Danke, gut”, meaning “Thanks, I’m fine.” Usually, people will not respond with “Schlecht” (bad), even if they aren’t 100%. You can use something like “Es geht” (It’s alright) to reply in a more neutral tone and avoid giving too much detail about how you are feeling. This response does have a slightly negative connotation, however.

To greet a friend or acquaintance in German requires more than just the correct words. You should also know what to do when meeting a German. A firm handshake is always a respected method of greeting someone you are less familiar with. A successful greeting might be the start to a long-lasting friendship. Close friends may hug to greet, but kisses on the cheek are not very common. Always keep in mind that Germans like to communicate very directly and likely interpret gestures literally. Here is a good example: being asked if you would like food and saying no will result in them not giving you food, even if you just declined out of politeness. Germans will take your word and not ask a second time.

GermanEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Wie geht’s?How are you?How are you?How are you? After you have given an initial greetingNeutral
Wie geht es dir heute?How are you doing today?How are you doing today?How are you? After you have given an initial greeting with someone you see oftenNeutral
Was geht ab?What’s up? / What’s happening?What’s going on?Depending on the conversation, they may be asking what you are currently doing or just giving a general greetingInformal
Wer bist du?Who are you?Who are you?When meeting someone new and wanting to know their name. This can, however, be perceived as rude; rather, ask directly for their name.Informal
Wo warst du?Where have you been?Where have you been?Used with someone you haven’t seen in a whileInformal
Wo wohnst du?Where do you live?Where do you live?Used with someone you have just met and are getting to knowInformal
Gern geschehenYou’re welcomeIt was a pleasureUsed as response when someone is thanking youInformal

How to Say Goodbye in German

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Saying goodbye in German

Below are a few examples of expressions that can be used to notify that you are about to leave or saying goodbye to someone.

The most common way of saying goodbye is to say “Auf Wiedersehen, which translates to “until I see you again.” It is more often used when you are not planning to see someone for a while and is a bit more formal than the simple “Tschüss.

GermanEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Auf Wiedersehen!GoodbyeSee you againTo someone you won’t see for a long timeFormal
TschüssByeByeWhen departingNeutral
Bis baldSee you soonSee you soonTo someone you are planning on seeing soonNeutral
Bis MorgenSee you tomorrowUntil tomorrowAny timeNeutral
Bis nächste WocheSee you next weekUntil next weekAny timeNeutral
Wir sehen uns am MontagSee you on MondaySee you on MondayAny timeNeutral
Bis späterSee you laterUntil laterIf you plan to see/connect with someone later the same day (otherwise use ‘Bis bald’)Informal

Answering the phone

Speaking on the phone can be nerve-wracking, as no body language will save you. Be prepared by learning these common phrases below:

GermanEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Guten TagHelloGood day / afternoonGreetingFormal
Ja, bitte?Yes, please?Yes, please?When answering the phoneNeutral
Sag mir BescheidLet me knowGive me noticeIn conversation when you need someone to get back to you to give you informationNeutral

Writing letters or emails in German

Starting an e-mail or letter correctly can be tricky in German. It is recommended to use a comma ( , ) after an introductory greeting when writing a letter in German; however, the first word of the following sentence is written small (unless it is a noun).

GermanEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Sehr geehrte Damen und HerrenDear Sir/Madam/All,Esteemed sir/madam/allFormal lettersFormal
Sehr geehrter Herr…, /Sehr geehrte Frau…,/Liebe Frau…,/ Lieber Herr…,Dear Mr./Mrs./Miss [last name],Formal greetingFormal lettersFormal
Sehr geehrter Herr …,Dear Sir(/etc.),Distinguished sirVery formal lettersFormal
Verehrte HerrenDear Sirs,Distinguished sirsVery formal lettersFormal
HochachtungsvollYours faithfully,Attentive greetings fromFormal lettersFormal
Mit freundlichen GrüßenYours sincerely,Attentive greetings fromFormal lettersFormal
Ich freue mich darauf, von Ihnen zu hören.I look forward to hearing from you.Waiting for your answerFormal lettersFormal
Lieber [first name]Dear [first name],Esteemed [first name]Less formal lettersSlightly formal
Hallo, [Vorname]Hi/Hello [first name],Loved one/ friendInformal lettersInformal
Alles GuteAll my bestBest wishesInformal lettersInformal
Herzliche GrüßeWarm wishes,A warm greetingInformal lettersNeutral

German Holiday Greetings

Photo by Julia Volk

German holiday greetings and best wishes

Special events deserve a special greeting. It can be a nice gesture to wish someone well in celebration of a birthday or holiday. Keep in mind that these greetings can be used in an informal and formal way alike.

GermanEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!Happy birthday!Happy birthday!Birthday wishesNeutral
Alles Gute!All the best!All the best!Birthday wishes or general well-wishesNeutral
Frohe Feiertage!Happy holidays!Happy holidays!Mainly used for Christmas holidaysNeutral
Frohe Weihnachten!Merry Christmas!Happy Christmas!ChristmasNeutral
Frohes neues Jahr!Happy New Year!Happy Year New!Around New Year’sNeutral

To engage in conversation: General German phrases

What happens after a lovely greeting? You talk. Sometimes it is good to say a few polite things to keep the conversation going. Here are some general responses to give to a German speaker, along with some more casual or regional greetings.

GermanEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Grüß dich!Greetings!Greetings to youCasual way of greeting a friendInformal
Grüß Gott!May the Lord be with youGreetings to God!Used as a greeting in southern Germany or AustriaNeutral
Entschuldigen Sie bitteExcuse meExcuse me, pleaseGetting someone’s attentionFormal
EntschuldigungExcuse meExcuse meApologizingInformal
Wie bitte?Pardon me?Pardon me?To clarify confusionNeutral
DankeThank youThank youThanking someoneNeutral
(Es) Tut mit leidI’m sorryI’m sorryApologizingNeutral
Wirklich? Echt?Really?Really?Asking in confirmationNeutral
Gerne!GladlyHappilyWhen assisting someone with somethingNeutral
Mit Vergnügen!GladlyWith pleasureWhen assisting someone with somethingNeutral
Sehr erfreutNice to meet youIt’s a pleasureAfter meeting someoneNeutral
Freut mich.Nice to meet youIt’s a pleasureAfter meeting someoneNeutral
Mach’s gutTake careTake careUpon departureNeutral
Pass auf dich auf.Take careTake care of yourselfUpon departureNeutral

As with many languages, greetings depend on whom you are addressing and the context of the interaction. There are many ways to say hello, and some are more polite than others. Are you ready to get some small-talk going? Learn more German vocabulary and different lessons to get your German skills kick-started with Lingvist. Sign up for free and study at your own pace.

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