One of the first things you need to know when you go to a Spanish-speaking country is how to say Hello in the Spanish language.
Sure, this might sound a little trivial, but the truth is there are many different ways to greet Spanish speakers. And while there are tons of ways to say hi in Spanish, some are only acceptable on certain occasions.
So in today’s article, you’ll be learning a ton of Spanish greetings, and you’ll also be learning about the importance of context. So let’s get started!
Formal Spanish Greetings
First, it’s important to know some Spanish greetings that you can use in formal contexts. You should use a formal Spanish greeting when you are speaking to:
- People of authority (doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.)
- Workers (at a store, for example)
- Elderly people
- Your boss
- Any Spanish speakers you’re meeting for the first time
Let’s get started learning some ways to say hi in Spanish:
This is the most basic phrase that you’ve most likely heard before. In fact, even if you are a day 1 beginner, you probably already know how to say Hola.
The catch here is that Hola isn’t incredibly formal, but rather it is a more casual greeting that is also appropriate in a formal context.
Hola is the most common Spanish phrase for saying Hello because it’s universally acceptable. If you don’t know what else to say to the person, Hola is always a safe way to say Hello in Spanish.
You can also use Hola, then use some of the other greetings you’re about to learn in combination. This way, it’s more like an opener and can fit any sort of speaking situation you’re in. So keep an out for that in the rest of this article.
One of the most important phrases to know is the simple greeting Buenos días / tardes (Good morning / afternoon). This is appropriate in both formal and informal contexts, but it’s another perfectly acceptable Spanish greeting in a more formal setting.
Again, this phrase is commonly used to precede the next thing you will say, as well. For example, a store clerk might say this as you enter and then ask if you need help. Or maybe if you’re giving a speech, you can say this as you begin. Let’s look at some examples of how to use this as a formal greeting:
- Buenos días, ¿cómo lo puedo ayudar? – Good morning, how can I help you?
- Buenos días, quería devolver estos pantalones. – Good morning, I wanted to return this pants.
- Buenos días, ¿empezamos la reunión? – Good morning, should we start the meeting?
As you can see, each of these situations is a little more impersonal or professional. As you learn Spanish, or any language, you’ll realize there are lots of ways to use context-appropriate language in a natural way.
But it’s important to note that Buenos días isn’t strictly a formal greeting. You can also use this with friends or family. It’s just that this is also acceptable in a formal way.
For example, if living with a Spanish-speaking family, it’s common to say Buenos días when you first wake up in the morning. Or if you are at work, you can say Buenos días to your colleagues when they walk in, even if you have a close relationship with them. That’s why this is such a helpful Spanish phrase to know!
¿Cómo está usted?
This greeting, on the other hand, is definitely only for formal context in most Spanish-speaking countries. Even in Latin American countries where the usted form is more common, you likely would never use this as an informal greeting.
You can use this in conjunction with Hola or Buenos días to greet people you don’t know or people at their place of employment. For example:
- Buenos días, doctor, ¿cómo está usted? – Good morning Doctor, how are you?
- Hola Señora, ¿cómo está usted? – Hello ma’am, how are you?
Remember that this is one of those Spanish greetings that you would use in any sort of case when the Usted form is required.
Hola a todos/as
This is most commonly used as a way to greet multiple people at the same time. You would most likely use this if you walk into a meeting or into some sort of setting where many people are speaking together.
This is also a very common way of starting a speech. So if you listen to a speech given to a politician or you need to give a presentation of some kind, you can start off by saying “Hola a todos y a todas” (Hello to everyone).
You might occasionally hear this as a casual greeting for a group of friends, but it’s pretty uncommon in most places. Usually for informal greetings, there are more natural options.
Also, it’s important to note the usage of A todos y a todas. In the past, it was more common to only use Todos, since the masculine -os is used for mixed groups of people. However, it’s becoming increasingly more common to use inclusive language, so many people prefer the use of “a todos y a todas” in spoken speech.
But that’s a debate for a whole other day. For now, let’s move on to greeting people informally.
Informal Spanish Greetings
Next, it’s time to go over how to say hello to Spanish speakers in casual ways. All of these should be limited to more informal situations. In other words, you would only use this with friends and sometimes family.
Each of them has different implicit meanings, but in general, all of these Spanish language greetings essentially mean Hello. This list is, of course, not comprehensive. There are many other greetings you could use, including many greetings that are typically a bit more vulgar.
So for today, we’ll be going over more neutral, but informal Spanish greetings. You can comfortably use this with any Spanish speaker. Just pay attention to the fact that some of them are more region-specific.
Qué tal as a greeting is a way of saying “How are you?”. It’s a great way to say hello to your friends and you can customize it as well.
You can also reference specific things if you want to ask a question right away. For example, if you know that your friend just got a new job, you could say something like, “¿Qué tal el trabajo?”.
However, this phrase is most commonly used in Spain. So if you’re in Latin America, you’re less likely to hear Spanish-speaking people say Qué tal.
Another great option when speaking informally, ¿Qué pasa? is the equivalent to the English “What’s up?”. You’ll typically use this with close friends.
This is an expression that you definitely don’t want to use in formal situations, just like you wouldn’t say the English version to your boss.
But just remember, that ¿Qué pasa? can also mean “What happened? / What’s happening?”. So if you’re not using it as a greeting, it’s being used in this sense.
Ey can mean many different things, but it’s commonly used as a way to say hi among native speakers in a casual way. It comes from the English “Hey” and is often used in combination with other expressions.
- Ey José, ¿qué tal todo? – Hey Jose, how’s everything going?
- Ey Laura, ¿cómo estás? – Hey Laura, how are you?
This one is used pretty much everywhere in the world to varying degrees, but only among friends.
The word Onda literally means wave, but it’s commonly used in a ton of different expressions across Latin America. In this example, it’s an easy way to say “How’s it going?” Just like ¿Qué tal? in Spain, ¿Qué onda? is a good synonym for ¿Cómo estás? when greeting friends.
Just like some of the previous examples, ¿Cómo va? is a great way to greet. Here, it’s not using the Usted form, but rather asking how it is going.
You can also change it up slightly and use the ¿Cómo vas? form, to ask how the person is doing. In this case, it would be exactly like asking Cómo estás.
As you learn Spanish, you’ll keep seeing that there are a ton of different expressions you can use. So just use whichever one you like best!
This is a greeting for friends or family that you haven’t seen in a while. It’s an exclamatory phrase that literally means “What a long time!”
So if you’ve finally seen a friend after going a long time without seeing them, you can use this greeting. What a “long time” is depends on you, but usually, people will use this after not seeing someone for around a month.
You can also use this to greet someone sarcastically. For example, if you just saw your friend last night, and today you go out to lunch with them, you can say “Ey, cuánto tiempo” as a joke.
So you’re welcome, now you have an easy go-to joke to impress a native speaker.
¿Cómo andas? is another greeting for informal contexts that is most frequently used in parts of Latin America. It’s a great way to say Hello in Spanish and is very similar to the phrase Cómo vas. So again, it’s another synonym for ¿Cómo estás?
Depending on the country, however, it might change forms a bit. For example, in Argentina, it’s more common to hear ¿Cómo andás?, in the Vos form.
With this expression, it’s another way of saying “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?”.
This might not be the most common expression on this list, but it’s certainly used. For example, if you’re meeting a group of friends, you could say this to greet everyone at once.
- ¿Qué hay, chicos? – How’s it going, guys?
Mucho gusto / Encantado
Of course, whenever you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s important to greet someone politely.
Sometimes when you’re introduced to someone, you don’t have a chance to say “Hello” right away, so instead you’ll be able to say Mucho gusto / Encantado as the first way you greet the person. It’s a polite way of saying “nice to meet you”.
Afterwards, you can continue the conversation with a ¿Cómo te llamas? or any topic you’d like to start.
How to Answer the Telephone
Now that you know a bunch of ways to greet someone in person, you’ll also want to know how to answer the phone.
All of the following greetings are generally very neutral. They’re appropriate to say when you don’t know the person who is calling you. So whether you’re in the workplace or you’re getting a call from an unknown number, you’ll want to use these expressions.
If you know who is calling you, and they’re a friend, then you can use any of the previous informal greetings + their name.
- Hola Laura, ¿qué pasa? – Hey Laura, what’s up?
- Ey Juan, ¿qué hay? – Hey Juan, how’s it going?
This is one of the most common ways to answer the phone, especially in Spain. If you don’t know who the person is, by saying Diga, it’s a natural way to answer the phone.
To an English speaker, it may sound like a strange way of answering the phone since the literal translation is “Speak.” But in Spanish, it really does sound perfectly natural and polite, especially since it’s in the Usted form.
You can also use dígame as an alternative. And in the cases where you just got off the phone with someone, but they immediately call you back, you can use the tú form of the imperative.
- Dime, mamá – What’s up, mom?
To an English speaker again, it might not sound polite to answer the phone with “Yes?”, but in Spanish its perfectly normal. It’s just important to make sure you have a polite rising intonation.
This is a pretty common way of answering the phone both in Spain and Mexico.
This is more commonly used in Latin America, particularly in Mexico. There is some interesting linguistic history with this word, but basically, Bueno is often used as a filler word.
Ever since it was necessary to have a telephone operator, “¿Bueno?” has been a really common way to answer the phone.
Finally, wrapping up with a classic. Just like when greeting someone in person, you can say Hola to answer the phone. The only thing that’s important to know here is that you should also be using a question intonation, as well, otherwise it will sound a bit strange.
That’s all for today! Now that you’ve learned all these ways to greet someone, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test.
Speaking with other native speakers is a great way to learn a language quickly, and the first step is to make sure you have an appropriate greeting. But of course, you’ll also need to make sure you say goodbye in the right way, too.
So whether you want to wish them a good afternoon, a good evening, or a Buen día, make sure you figure out how to end the conversation, too!
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