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

Category Situation/Context Examples
Formal Used with people you are meeting for the first time, are older than you, or that you want to demonstrate respect for Professors, in-laws, the CEO of your company, the elderly
Slightly formal Used with those you don't know personally or you want to demonstrate respect for Shopkeepers, bank tellers, your boss, family members you don't see often
Informal Used when meeting new peers; with friends/acquaintances, classmates, colleagues Your friend's friends, family members
Very informal Used in social settings such as bars or sports teams with those you already know Close friends and family members close in age
Neutral Appropriate in all settings Anyone

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.

Spanish English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Hola Hello Hello Standard greeting Neutral
Buenos días Good morning Good (pl.) days Mornings (until 12:00 p.m. noon) Slightly formal
Buenas tardes Good afternoon Good (pl.) afternoons Until the sun goes down / depends on the country Slightly formal
Buenas noches Good evening/night Good (pl.) nights After the sun goes down / after dinnertime; could be used as a farewell Slightly formal
Muy buenas/buenas Short version of all the above Very 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].”

Spanish English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
¿Cómo se llama (usted)? What’s your name? How you (second person singular formal pronoun) are called? Introductions Formal
¿Cómo te llamas? What’s your name? How you (second person singular pronoun) are called? Introductions Informal
Mucho gusto Pleasure/Nice to meet you Much pleasure Introductions Neutral
Encantado/ encantada Pleasure (to meet you) Charmed Used mainly in Spain Neutral
Encantado/a de conocerle Pleasure to meet you Charmed to know you Used mainly in Spain Formal
Bienvenidos/Bienvenida/Bienvenidos/Bienvenidas Welcome Good coming: from a combination of "bien" + "venidos" (venir needs to be inflected for gender and number of people) Introductions Neutral
Mi casa es tu casa Make yourself at home My house is your house Visiting someone’s house Informal

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.

Spanish English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
¿Cómo estás (tú)? How are you? How are you? How are you? After you have given an initial greeting Neutral
¿Cómo estáis vosotros? How are you? How are you? More common in Spain Neutral
¿Cómo está usted? How are you? How are you? More common in Latin America Slightly formal
¿Cómo te va?/¿Cómo vas? How’s it going? How you (second person singular pronoun) go Any time Very 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 greeting Informal
¿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 texting Informal
¿Qué tal? What's up? How such? Just like "What's up?" in English, people don't always expect a response Informal
¿Dónde has estado? Where have you been? Where have you been? Not a literal question; used for someone you haven't seen in a while Informal
¡Hace tiempo que no te veo! Long time no see! It's been time that I haven't seen you Any time Informal

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).

Spanish English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Adiós Goodbye Goodbye (from "to god") To someone you won't see for a long time, like at an airport Neutral
Chao/Chau Bye Borrowed from the Italian "ciao" Some people compare this to the use of "peace" in English Very informal
Nos vemos We'll see each other (soon) We see Any time Neutral
Hasta mañana See you tomorrow Until tomorrow Any time Neutral
Hasta la próxima semana See you next week Until the next week Any time Neutral
Hasta el lunes See you on Monday Until Monday Any time Neutral
Hasta luego See you later Until then As in English, not necessarily taken literally Neutral
Hasta pronto See you soon Until soon As in English, not necessarily taken literally Neutral
Hasta la vista See you soon Until we see each other Any time Neutral
Hasta ahora See you in a minute Until now Any time Informal

Answering the Phone

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

Spanish English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
¿Aló? Hello Hello Mainly in Latin America (common in Venezuela and Colombia) Neutral
Bueno Hello Good Mainly in Latin America (common in Mexico) Informal
Yes Yes When answering the phone Informal
Diga Tell me Say it Common in Spain Informal

Written Letters or Emails

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

Spanish English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
Estimado señor/señora/señores: Dear Sir/Madam/All, Esteemed sir/madam/all Formal letters Formal
Estimado Sr./Sra./Srta. [last name]: Dear Mr./Mrs./Miss [last name] , Esteemed Mr./Mrs./Miss [last name], Formal letters Formal
Distinguido señor (/etc.): Dear Sir(/etc.) Distinguished sir Very formal letters Formal
Muy señor mío/señores míos: Dear Sir/Sirs(/etc.) Very sir my Very formal letters Formal
Le/Les saludo atentamente, Yours faithfully/sincerely, I greet you attentively Formal letters Formal
Atentamente/Muy atentamente, Yours faithfully/sincerely, Attentively/Very Attentively Formal letters Formal
Atentos saludos de, Yours faithfully/sincerely, Attentive greetings from Formal letters Formal
Reciba un cordial saludo de, Yours faithfully/sincerely, Receiving a cordial greeting from Formal letters: once a relationship has been established Formal
En espera de su respuesta, le/les saludo atentamente. I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Waiting for your answer Formal letters Formal
Estimado [first name]: Dear [first name], Esteemed [first name] Less formal letters Slightly formal
Un cordial saludo, Yours truly, A cordial greeting Less formal letters Slightly formal
Querido [masc. first name] / Querida [fem. first name]: Hi/Hello [first name], Loved/Treasured friend Informal letters Informal
Un abrazo de, All my best / take care, A hug from Informal letters Informal
Un fuerte abrazo, All my best/take care, A strong hug from Informal letters Informal
Un cariñoso saludo, Warm wishes, A warm greeting Informal letters Neutral

Holiday Greetings

Spanish English equivalent Literal translation Context Formality
¡Feliz cumpleaños! Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday! On someone's birthday Neutral
¡Felices vacaciones! Happy Holidays! Happy Holidays! In December Neutral
¡Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas! Happy Christmas! In December Neutral
¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Happy New Year! Happy Year New! On Dec. 31 – Jan. 1 Neutral

Congratulations! You’ve got the beginning and end of the conversation covered. What about the middle? Check out Lingvist’s Spanish course to learn the rest!