If you want to make a great first impression when meeting people from Spanish-speaking countries, learning how to greet them in their language is the first step. Whether you’re a beginner trying to get comfortable conversing in this beautiful language or you’ve been studying for a while and need an extra push, understanding how and when to use different expressions depending on the context is essential. From casual hellos to formal introductions and even exotic variations found throughout Latin America, this blog post outlines the different ways of saying “Hello” in Spanish so that you can confidently start conversations!
Why is it important to know how to say hello in Spanish?
The way we say “Hello” speaks volumes about how much we respect and appreciate the culture of others. This is especially true with Spanish, a widely-spoken language with great cultural significance. And it takes little effort to learn a few basic Spanish greetings. A simple but friendly “Hola” already shows respect and appreciation for the culture, which can go a long way if you visit a Spanish-speaking country or interact with anyone who speaks Spanish.
So, taking the time out of your week to learn and practice your few go-to Spanish salutations, such as correctly saying “Hello,” shows your commitment to connecting with someone and their culture in a respectful manner. And as your knowledge and comfort with the Spanish language continue to grow, so too will your confidence in talking to native speakers.
The difference between casual and formal greetings in Spanish
A respectful, warm greeting is the best way to start a conversation. Just like other languages, Spanish has two “registers” that are used depending on the situation: formal and informal. Awareness of the people around us and understanding their expectations when we greet them is essential in any language.
In general, formal greetings in Spanish are best for these types of situations:
- Meeting someone for the first time
- Meeting people who do you a service (e.g., doctors, professors, bank employees)
- Greeting someone significantly older than you
- Greeting someone in a professional or business environment
Informal or casual greetings are reserved for:
- People you already know well (friends and family)
- People the same age as you (classmates)
For many languages, there are two forms or “registers” of “you.” The informal or casual form is “tú,” whereas the polite and formal version is “usted.” Never refer to someone as “tú” in a formal situation unless the person you’re talking to asks you to address them using the form “tú“ instead of “usted.”
Casual greetings in Spanish
The most well-known greeting you probably already know is “Hola.” It corresponds to the English “Hello” and can be used in many contexts. There’s nothing wrong with using it in everyday life (exceptions are very formal situations such as job interviews). But there are more options to choose from if you want to sound like a native Spanish speaker:
“¿Qué pasa?” – “What’s up?”
“Qué pasa” is probably the most common way to say “Hello” after “Hola.” However, the other person is not expected to start talking about their day when met with this greeting. The typical answer is “aquí estamos,” meaning “We are here.”
“¿Qué tal?” – How are you?
“¿Qué tal?” is also a popular alternative to “Hola” among friends, colleagues, acquaintances, family members, at the hairdresser, and many more casual everyday situations. With family members and friends, you can continue the conversation with a more detailed answer, but neither your hairdresser nor baker is interested in personal news. The standard response to “¿Qué tal?” would be “Más o menos!” meaning “More or less!”
“¿Qué haces?” – “What are you doing?”
Similar to “¿Qué tal?” nobody expects a detailed response. As in English, the answer is usually “Nothing” or “Not much,” which would be “Pues nada” in Spanish.
“¿Qué dices?” – “What’s new?”
“¿Qué pasa/tal/haces/dices?” differ slightly in literal translation, but in the end, all mean the same thing.
“¿Qué te cuentas?” – “What’s new?”
[ˌke t̪e ˈkwẽn̪.t̪as]
“¿Qué te cuentas?” and “¿Qué dices?” are practically identical. Spanish native speakers make no distinction between the two. But when in doubt, choose the one that sounds better to you.
“¿Oye, cómo te va?” – “How are you?”
[ˈo.ʝe ˌko.mo t̪e ˈβ̞a]
With or without “Oye,” “¿Cómo te va?” is an extremely popular greeting in Spain, especially among friends and colleagues. But it’s much more colloquial than “¿Qué pasa?”. So, in a formal meeting, you will want to choose a different phrase like “¿Cómo está?”
“Cuánto tiempo (sin vernos)” – “Long time no see”
This would be the ideal greeting for that friend you swear to see more often. And then it will be half a year until the next time.
“¿Qué tal la vida?” – “How’s it going?”
[ˌke ˈtal la ˈβiða]
“¿Qué tal la vida?” literally translates to “How’s life going?” It’s another great option for saying “Hello” in Spanish. However, it’s more commonly used for people who haven’t seen each other for a long time. For example, distant relatives that you only get together with at milestone birthday parties.
“¡Buenas!” – “Good day!”
“Buenas” is short for “Buenas tardes,” “Buenas noches,” and “Buenos dias”. But there’s one thing to keep in mind: Even though “Buenas” is used as an abbreviation for “Buenos dias,” you still say “Buenas,” not “Buenos.”
Formal greetings in Spanish
In formal situations, there are also plenty of expressions to choose from. But when in doubt, go with the time of the day:
“Buenos días” / “Buenas tardes” / “Buenas noches”
[ˈbwenos̬ ˈðias] / [[ˈbwenos̬ ˈtaɾðes̬] / [ˈbwenos̬ ˈnoʧes]
“Buenos días” = “Good morning.”
“Buenas tardes” = “Good afternoon.”
“Buenas noches” = “Good evening/night.”
You can’t go wrong with these phrases. The only thing to watch out for is the timing. Depending on the region, you can say “Buenos días” until noon or lunch. After that, you’re better off saying “Buenas tardes,” which is fine until it gets dark outside. The interesting thing about “Buenas noches” is that people not only say it before they go to bed (in the sense of “Good night”) but they also use it as a greeting when they meet with friends at a bar or somewhere else at night.
“Hola, ¿cómo está?” – “Hello, how are you?”
[ˈola ˈkomo ɛsˈta]
“¿Cómo está?” is the more formal alternative to “¿Qué tal?” Similar to “¿Qué tal?” people don’t expect (and don’t want) an elaborate response about how you’re actually feeling. Appropriate responses vary from “Muy bien” (“Very good”) to “Bien” (“Good”) and “Más o menos” (“So-so.”).
It’s also always much appreciated to respond with a counter-question like “¿Y tú?” (informal “And you?”) or “¿Y usted?” (formal “And you?”).
“Hola, un placer” – “Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you”
[ˈola ũm plaˈsɛɾ]
“Hola, un placer” is a very polite but friendly greeting in Spanish. One of the possible replies would be “Es un placer conocerte también!” which translates to “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too!”
How greetings differ in other Latin countries
Nearly all of the phrases above can be regarded as “all-round expressions” since any native Spanish speaker will understand them, no matter the country. But when you’ve traveled to Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Chile, and other Latin American countries, you’ll see that each has its own unique twist to the Spanish language, which also means that each country has different variations of greetings, especially casual ones. And if you want to make a good first impression as a foreigner, you would benefit from learning them thoroughly.
Common casual greetings in Spain
- ¡Hola, tía! [ˈola ˈtia] / ¡Hola, tío! [ˈola ˈtio] – Hey, Girl / Hey, Dude!
- ¿Cómo andas? [ˈkomo ˈãndas] – How’s it going?
- ¿Cómo va la cosa? [ˈkomo ˈba la ˈkosa] – How are you doing?
Common casual greetings in Mexico
- ¿Qué onda, güey? [ˈke ˈõnda ˈɡwei̯] – What’s up, dude/buddy?
- ¿Quiúbole? [ˈkjuβole] – What’s up?
- ¡Amiga! [aˈmiɣa] / ¡Amigo! [aˈmiɣo] – Friend!
Common casual greetings in Colombia
- ¿Quiubo? [ˈkjuβo] – What’s up?
- ¿Bien, ¿o qué? [ˈbjɛn o ˈke] – Good, or what?
- ¿Y tú de qué? [i tu ðe ˈke] – What’s new with you?
Common casual greetings in Argentina
- ¡Buenas y santas! [ˈbwenas̬ i ˈsãntas] – Good day!
- ¿Todo bien? [ˈtodo ˈbjen] – Is everything good?
- ¡Ave María Purísima! [ˈaβe maˈɾia puˈɾisima] – Purest Virgin Mary!
Common casual greetings in Chile
- ¿Cómo estái? [ˈkomo ɛsˈtaj] – How are you?
- ¡Wena! [ˈwena] – Good day!
- ¡Hola, weón! [ˈola weˈõn] – Hey, dude!
Common casual greetings in Venezuela
- ¡Épale! [ˈepale] – Hello!
- ¿Qué hubo, compadre? [ˈke ˈuβo kõmˈpaðɾe] – What’s up, comrade/brother?
- ¡Háblame! [ˈaβlame] – Talk to me!
Common casual greetings in Peru
- ¡Hola causa! [ˈola ˈkau̯sa] – What’s up?
- ¡Habla causa! [ˈaβla ˈkau̯sa] – What’s up?
- ¿Qué tal weo? [ˈke ˈtal ˈweo] – What’s up, dude?
Common casual greetings in the Dominican Republic
- ¡Dímelo! [ˈdimelo] – Tell me!
- ¡Dímelo cantando, tigre! [ˈdimelo kãnˈtãndo ˈtiɣɾe] – Sing to me, tiger!
- ¿Qué es lo que es? [ˈke ˈɛs̬ lo ˈke ˈɛs̬] – What’s up?
Most common ways to say “Hi” in Spanish
The go-to choice to say “Hi” or “Hello” in Spanish would be “Hola.” Although there’s nothing wrong with choosing this greeting, there are a few variations to choose from if you’re interested in learning other expressions. However, remember that these greetings are only used in casual or informal situations.
- ¡Oye! [ˈoʝe] – Hey!
- ¡Hola, hola! [ˈola ˈola] – Hi there!
- ¿Qué onda? [ˈke ˈõnda] – What’s up?
- Holi [ˈoli] – Hi!
- ¡Hola a todos! [ˈola a ˈtoðos] – Hello, everyone!
- ¡Saludos! [saˈluðos] – Greetings!
- ¡Hola, mi amor! [ˈola mj aˈmoɾ] – Hello, my love!
Other popular greetings in Spanish
When talking about the different words and phrases to greet someone in Spanish, most think about in-person meetings. But one must remember that it’s also essential to know how to pick up the phone or address someone in a text message or email when learning Spanish.
How to answer the phone in Spanish
If you live in a Spanish-speaking country or expect a call from a Spanish-speaking person, you would do well knowing these few phrases to answer the phone appropriately:
- ¿Sí? [ˈsi] – Yes?
This is how most Spanish people answer the phone, especially if it’s their personal number.
- ¿Diga? / ¿Dígame? [ˈdiɣa] / [ˈdiɣame] – Go ahead. / Tell me.
“¿Diga?” or “¿Dígame?” literally translates to “Go ahead” or “Tell me.” These are apt expressions to begin a Spanish phone conversation. It’s most common in formal situations and among the older Spanish-speaking population.
- Hola. [ˈola] – Hello.
“Hola” became quite common once we were introduced to mobile phones that display the caller’s name on our phone screens. Since you know who’s calling, it’s more than appropriate to answer with “Hola.”
- ¿Aló? [aˈlo] – Hello?
If you’re getting a call from a Latin American Spanish speaker, your go-to answer is “¿Aló?”
- Bueno. [ˈbweno] – Hello.
Although “bueno” usually means “good” or “well,” it’s also commonly used in Mexico to greet someone on the phone.
If you are the one who’s calling, you can either go with a simple “Hola” or choose between “Buenos días” and “Buenas tardes” if it’s a business call.
How to start an email in Spanish
Like in English, you must keep different formality levels in mind when writing an email. You wouldn’t send your boss “kisses” nor tell your significant other “best regards.” Also, like in many other languages, watch out for the correct usage of “you.” When addressing someone casually or informally (tú), use “tu” and “te.” When addressing someone formally (usted), use the adjective “su” or “le.”
Formal email greetings:
- A quién corresponda [a ˈkjɛ̃n korɛsˈpõnda] – To whom it may concern
- Muy señora mía [mʊi seˈɲoɾa ˈmia] / Muy señora o señorita mía [mʊi seˈɲoɾa o seɲoˈɾita ˈmia] / Muy señor mío [mʊi seˈɲoɾ ‘mio] – Dear Mrs. / Dear Mrs. or Miss / Dear Sir
- Estimada Señora XX [estiˈmada seˈɲoɾa] / Estimada Señora o Señorita XX [estiˈmada seˈɲoɾa o seɲoˈɾita] / Estimado Señor XX [estiˈmado seˈɲoɾ] – Dear Mrs. (last name) / Dear Mrs. or Miss (last name) / Dear Mr. (last name)
- Don XX [ˈdon] – Dear (first name)
Informal email greetings:
- Querida [kɛɾiˈða] / Querido [kɛɾiˈðo] – Dear (first name) / Beloved (first name)
- Buenos días [ˈbwenos̬ ˈðias] / Buenas tardes [ˈbwenos̬ ˈtaɾðes̬] – Good morning / Good afternoon
Casual email greetings:
(You can also use these greetings for casual text messages among friends and family members.)
- Hola [ˈola] – Hello!
- Buenas [ˈbwenas̬] – Good day!
- Ey [ˈei̯] – Hey!