Russian Greetings and Basic Phrases

How to ask “How are you?” in Russian, and more!

Simple yet commonly used questions and phrases can be the trickiest to grasp, and even more so when it comes to Russian. Don’t worry – although Russian is a tricky language, it is very possible to learn!

Looking for authentic ways to improve the general flow of a conversation? Here’s what you can do to master all the small talk expressions you’ll ever need to know:

  1. Use this breakdown of greetings based on the occasion.
  2. Become familiar with Russian pronunciation and vocabulary using Lingvist’s Russian course.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use “Прошу прощения?” if you get stuck.

Formality Guide

Below are the levels of formality we’ll be referring to throughout our ultimate guide to basic Russian phrases:

CategorySituation/ContextExamples
FormalUsed with people you are meeting for the first time, are older than you, or that you want to show respect for (think Вы – capitalized)Professors, in-laws, the CEO of your company, the elderly
Slightly formalUsed with those you don’t know personally or you want to demonstrate respect forShopkeepers, bank tellers, your boss, family members you don’t see often
InformalUsed when meeting new peers; with friends/acquaintances, classmates, colleaguesYour friend’s friends, family members
Very informalUsed in social settings such as bars or sports teams with those you already knowClose friends and family members close in age
NeutralAppropriate in all settingsAnyone

Initial Greetings

There are certain do’s and don’ts to starting a conversation, and Russian culture is no exception.

So, what are the most common ways – from formal to slang – to spark some small talk in Russian?

RussianEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Здравствуйте!Hello!HelloA classic greeting you can’t possibly go wrong withNeutral
Привет!Hi!HiAnytime, anywhereInformal
Чао!Ciao!Hi thereA slightly informal greeting taken from Italian; can also be used as a farewellVery informal
Здоро́во!Howdy!OiSlangishVery informal
Йо!Yo!YoA very slangish greetingVery informal
Доброе утро!Good morning!Good morningMornings (until 12:00 p.m. noon)Neutral
Добрый день!Good afternoon!Good afternoonFrom 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.Neutral
Добрый вечер!Good evening!Good eveningUntil the sun goes downNeutral
Доброй ночи!Good night!Good nightAfter the sun goes down / after dinnertime; can be used as a goodbyeNeutral

Learn Russian greetings and more

A little politeness goes a long way – Image source

Introductions and Welcomes

Now that you know the most common Russian words to start a conversation, you’ll naturally want to learn how to reply. Let’s have a closer look at introductions and welcoming words!

RussianEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Как Вас зовут?What is your name?How are you called?IntroductionsFormal
Как тебя зовут?What’s your name?How are you called?IntroductionsInformal
Приятно познакомиться!Pleased to meet you.Pleased to meet youIntroductionsNeutral
Очень приятно!Nice to meet you.Very pleasedIntroductionsNeutral
Добро пожаловать!Welcome!WelcomeWelcoming wordsNeutral
Чувствуйте себя как домаMake yourself at home.Feel yourself at homeWelcoming wordsSlightly formal
Чувствуй себя как домаFeel at home.Feel yourself at homeWelcoming wordsInformal
Располагайтесь!Be my guest!Be my guestWelcoming wordsFormal
Располагайся!You’re welcome!Be my guestWelcoming wordsInformal

Secondary Greeting / Checking In

Next, we’re going to zoom in on how to continue a conversation after greeting someone. Sure, “How are you?” is the first thing that springs to mind, but are there better ways to let someone know you hope they have a good day in Russian?

Let’s find out!

Note: Please mind the letter ё – especially if you’re just starting out. The golden rule of beginner’s Russian is not to forget the ё. Always keep in mind that any e you see might actually be ё.

RussianEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Как Ваши дела?How are you doing?How are your things going?The most polite question to ask after a greetingFormal
Как у Вас дела?How are you doing?How are your things?AnytimeFormal
Как поживаете?How are you?How are you living?AnytimeFormal
Как твои дела?How are you?How are your things going?AnytimeInformal
Как у тебя дела?How are you?How are your things?AnytimeInformal
Как поживаешь?How you been?How are you living?AnytimeInformal
Как дела?How are things?How are things?The most neutral question to ask after a greetingNeutral
Как жизнь?How’s it going?How’s life?AnytimeInformal
Как оно?Howdy?How is it?AnytimeVery informal
Чё, как?What’s up?So, howdy?Only if you’re on very friendly terms with someoneVery informal
Сколько лет, сколько зим!It’s been a long time since we last met.How many years, how many winters?An idiomatic expression used when finally meeting someone you haven’t seen in a whileInformal
Сто лет не виделись!Long time no see!We haven’t met in 100 years!AnytimeInformal
Давно не виделись!It’s been a long time!We haven’t met in ages!AnytimeNeutral
Давненько не виделись!It’s been so long!Haven’t seen you for ages!AnytimeInformal

Departing

Our guide wouldn’t be complete without teaching you the smart ways to say goodbye in Russian.

RussianEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
До свидания!Goodbye!Until we meetThe most commonly used phraseNeutral
Всего хорошего!All the best!All the bestAnytimeNeutral
Пока!Bye!ByeAnytimeInformal
Пока-пока!Bye-bye!Bye-byeAnytimeInformal
Увидимся!So long!Until we see each other againAnytimeNeutral
Чао!Ciao!CiaoCan be used both for greeting and departingVery informal
Давай!Be well!Be wellOn a side note, this expression can also be used for agreeing, as in “sure”Very informal
Поки!Cheerio!CheerioA warm slang wordVery informal
Покс!See ya!See yaA warm slang wordVery informal
Прощайте!Farewell!FarewellUsed when leaving for goodFormal
Прощай!Farewell!FarewellUsed when leaving for goodInformal

Russian alphabet

Remember to study the Cyrillic alphabet first! – Image source

Answering the Phone

Next, we’ll focus on the must-know phrases for receiving calls in Russian.

RussianEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Алло!Hello?HelloWhen answering the phoneNeutral
Слушаю!I’m listening!I’m listeningWhen answering the phoneNeutral
Да?Listening!YesWhen answering the phoneInformal
Кто говорит?Who am I speaking to?Who’s speaking?When answering the phoneFormal

Written Letters or Emails

RussianEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Уважаемый …,Dear Sir (first and last name),EsteemedFormal lettersFormal
Уважаемая …,Dear Ms./Mrs./Miss (first and last name),EsteemedFormal lettersFormal
Уважаемые господа,Dear Sirs/All,EsteemedFormal lettersFormal
Дорогой …!Dear (first name),DearAddressing a male friend in informal lettersInformal
Дорогая …!Dear (first name),DearAddressing a male friend in informal lettersInformal
С уважением,Yours faithfully/sincerely,RespectfullyFormal lettersFormal
С наилучшими пожеланиями,Best regards,Best regardsFormal lettersNeutral

Holiday greetings in Russian

Image source

Holiday Greetings

Here’s a brief overview of the most common holiday greetings.

RussianEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
С Днём Рождения!Happy birthday!Happy birthdayAnytimeNeutral
С праздником!Happy holiday!Happy memorable dayThe most universal holiday greeting that can be used anytime, anywhere, wishing literally anything from a happy birthday to a crazy cat lady dayNeutral
Счастливого Рождества!Merry Christmas!Happy ChristmasAnytimeNeutral
С Новым Годом!Happy New Year!Happy New YearAnytimeNeutral

Congratulations! You’ve now got the beginning and end of the conversation covered. Do you want to learn more? Check out Lingvist’s Russian course!