Spanish Greetings

If you’ve ever tried to use your foreign language skills with native speakers, you know that how you handle the initial greeting is a crucial moment. It often determines whether they continue in the foreign language or switch to English. The typical gap between utterances in human conversation is a mere 200 milliseconds, after which speakers generally sense that something has gone awry and start to look for a solution (repeating themselves, rephrasing, or switching to another language). Spanish greetings vary widely, depending on the time of day, context, and your relationship with the person.

hola

So, how can you recognize the greeting and reply with the appropriate response, all within 200 milliseconds?

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

Formality Guide

CategorySituation/ContextExamples
FormalUsed with people you are meeting for the first time, are older than you, or that you want to demonstrate respect forProfessors, 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

Below are the most common ways in which an interaction with a Spanish speaker is likely to begin. These will come in handy for travelers in Spanish-speaking countries or to encourage Spanish speakers to use basic Spanish expressions with you. Have your watch (“reloj”) handy, as these expressions are time-sensitive (as in the time of day).

Buenos/Buenas: In “Good —” expressions, you’ll notice that the plural form is used. Keep this in mind when choosing between buenos and buenas for feminine and masculine words that follow.

SpanishEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
HolaHelloHelloStandard greetingNeutral
Buenos díasGood morningGood (pl.) daysMornings (until 12:00 p.m. noon)Slightly formal
Buenas tardesGood afternoonGood (pl.) afternoonsUntil the sun goes down / depends on the countrySlightly formal
Buenas nochesGood evening/nightGood (pl.) nightsAfter the sun goes down / after dinnertime; could be used as a farewellSlightly formal
Muy buenas/buenasShort version of all the aboveVery good(pl.)/Good (pl.)Any time, as an informal “hello” (like shortening to “Morning” or “Afternoon”)Informal

Introductions and Welcome

If this is your first time meeting someone, you’ll need to know how to respond to these expressions!

Igualmente: When someone says “Nice to meet you” using one of the expressions found below, you can reply with “Igualmente” (literally “equally”).

Me llamo…: When someone asks your name, reply with “Me llamo [first name].”

SpanishEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
¿Cómo se llama (usted)?What’s your name?How you (second person singular formal pronoun) are called?IntroductionsFormal
¿Cómo te llamas?What’s your name?How you (second person singular pronoun) are called?IntroductionsInformal
Mucho gustoPleasure/Nice to meet youMuch pleasureIntroductionsNeutral
Encantado/ encantadaPleasure (to meet you)CharmedUsed mainly in SpainNeutral
Encantado/a de conocerlePleasure to meet youCharmed to know youUsed mainly in SpainFormal
Bienvenidos/Bienvenida/Bienvenidos/BienvenidasWelcomeGood coming: from a combination of “bien” + “venidos” (venir needs to be inflected for gender and number of people)IntroductionsNeutral
Mi casa es tu casaMake yourself at homeMy house is your houseVisiting someone’s houseInformal

Secondary Greeting / Checking In

After you’ve given some form of salutation, it’s polite to ask how someone is doing. Bypassing this can be perceived as rude. In certain Latin American countries, it’s considered impolite not to individually greet and say goodbye to each person in a group.

When asked how you are, the most common response is: “Estoy muy bien, gracias” (I am very well, thank you). Just as in English, it is uncommon to reply with “Mal” (bad), even if you aren’t 100%. You can use something like “No muy bien” or “Regular” to reply that things could be better.

Cheek-kissing: If you’re in a situation where you are using one of these secondary greetings, chances are you are meeting someone with whom you will have more continued contact (rather than a quick “Buenas tardes” to a shopkeeper), and it may be customary to give an “air kiss” on the cheek. If you’re male, it’s expected that you shake hands with other males and “kiss” females on each cheek in greeting. Females generally give “kisses” (“besos”) to everyone. Of course, this varies depending on the country and context, so it’s always best to wait for someone else to initiate and follow their lead.

SpanishEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
¿Cómo estás (tú)?How are you?How are you?How are you? After you have given an initial greetingNeutral
¿Cómo estáis vosotros?How are you?How are you?More common in SpainNeutral
¿Cómo está usted?How are you?How are you?More common in Latin AmericaSlightly formal
¿Cómo te va?/¿Cómo vas?How’s it going?How you (second person singular pronoun) goAny timeVery informal
¿Qué haces?What’s up? / What are you up to? / What are you doing? What do you do?What you do?Depending on the conversation, they may be asking what you do, what you are currently doing, or just giving a general greetingInformal
¿Qué pasa?What’s happening?What is passing/happening?Can also mean “What’s the matter?”Informal
¿Cómo va tu día?How is your day going?How goes your day?Great for messaging or textingInformal
¿Qué tal?What’s up?How such?Just like “What’s up?” in English, people don’t always expect a responseInformal
¿Dónde has estado?Where have you been?Where have you been?Not a literal question; used for someone you haven’t seen in a whileInformal
¡Hace tiempo que no te veo!Long time no see!It’s been time that I haven’t seen youAny timeInformal

Departing

Heading out? Use these expressions to signal your departure or wish someone farewell. Note that “baby” is not, in fact, mandatory at the end of “Hasta la vista,” but we trust you’ll use your judgement…

Adiós: Although you’ve probably heard “adiós” as the primary way of saying goodbye, it’s actually similar to the finality of “goodbye” in English and is most appropriate when you don’t plan to see the person for a while (or ever again – think breakup).

SpanishEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
AdiósGoodbyeGoodbye (from “to god”)To someone you won’t see for a long time, like at an airportNeutral
Chao/ChauByeBorrowed from the Italian “ciao”Some people compare this to the use of “peace” in EnglishVery informal
Nos vemosWe’ll see each other (soon)We seeAny timeNeutral
Hasta mañanaSee you tomorrowUntil tomorrowAny timeNeutral
Hasta la próxima semanaSee you next weekUntil the next weekAny timeNeutral
Hasta el lunesSee you on MondayUntil MondayAny timeNeutral
Hasta luegoSee you laterUntil thenAs in English, not necessarily taken literallyNeutral
Hasta prontoSee you soonUntil soonAs in English, not necessarily taken literallyNeutral
Hasta la vistaSee you soonUntil we see each otherAny timeNeutral
Hasta ahoraSee you in a minuteUntil nowAny timeInformal

Answering the Phone

Don’t be caught off guard when you hear one of the following on the other end of the line:

SpanishEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
¿Aló?HelloHelloMainly in Latin America (common in Venezuela and Colombia)Neutral
BuenoHelloGoodMainly in Latin America (common in Mexico)Informal
YesYesWhen answering the phoneInformal
DigaTell meSay itCommon in SpainInformal

Written Letters or Emails

Use the colon ( : ) rather than a comma ( , ) after an introductory greeting when writing a letter in Spanish.

SpanishEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
Estimado señor/señora/señores:Dear Sir/Madam/All,Esteemed sir/madam/allFormal lettersFormal
Estimado Sr./Sra./Srta. [last name]:Dear Mr./Mrs./Miss [last name],Esteemed Mr./Mrs./Miss [last name],Formal lettersFormal
Distinguido señor (/etc.):Dear Sir(/etc.),Distinguished sirVery formal lettersFormal
Muy señor mío/señores míos:Dear Sir/Sirs(/etc.),Very sir myVery formal lettersFormal
Le/Les saludo atentamente,Yours faithfully/sincerely,I greet you attentivelyFormal lettersFormal
Atentamente/Muy atentamente,Yours faithfully/sincerely,Attentively/Very AttentivelyFormal lettersFormal
Atentos saludos de,Yours faithfully/sincerely,Attentive greetings fromFormal lettersFormal
Reciba un cordial saludo de,Yours faithfully/sincerely,Receiving a cordial greeting fromFormal letters: once a relationship has been establishedFormal
En espera de su respuesta, le/les saludo atentamente.I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely,Waiting for your answerFormal lettersFormal
Estimado [first name]:Dear [first name],Esteemed [first name]Less formal lettersSlightly formal
Un cordial saludo,Yours truly,A cordial greetingLess formal lettersSlightly formal
Querido [masc. first name] / Querida [fem. first name]:Hi/Hello [first name],Loved/Treasured friendInformal lettersInformal
Un abrazo de,All my best / take care,A hug fromInformal lettersInformal
Un fuerte abrazo,All my best/take care,A strong hug fromInformal lettersInformal
Un cariñoso saludo,Warm wishes,A warm greetingInformal lettersNeutral

Holiday Greetings

SpanishEnglish equivalentLiteral translationContextFormality
¡Feliz cumpleaños!Happy Birthday!Happy Birthday!On someone’s birthdayNeutral
¡Felices vacaciones!Happy Holidays!Happy Holidays!In DecemberNeutral
¡Feliz Navidad!Merry Christmas!Happy Christmas!In DecemberNeutral
¡Feliz Año Nuevo!Happy New Year!Happy Year New!On Dec. 31 – Jan. 1Neutral

Congratulations! You’ve got the beginning and end of the conversation covered. Do you want to learn more? Check out Lingvist’s deck Daily Conversations in Spanish.