“Hola” is probably one of the first words every newcomer to Spanish learns. Of course, saying hello
or any type of greeting is the start to most interactions. Yet in reality, how often do we really just say “Hello”?
Let’s look at a few different ways to say Hello and Goodbye, and expand our knowledge of salutations, depending on the situation: ¡Digame! Meaning: Tell me (what you want), How can I help?
Alternative forms: “Diga”, “Dime”
Usage: Usually when answering the phone
Whilst to English speakers, it may seem somewhat rude to ask someone to “tell me what you want!”, this is in fact a polite way to answer the phone. You wouldn’t normally use this expression in place of hello in a face to face situation.
An exception, where you will
hear it said face to face, might be in a shop. In this instance, the assistant behind the counter might say “Digame” or “Dime” (less formal) as you approach the counter.
It more figuratively means “how can I help?”, thus is never used in place of a simple “hello”. ¿Qué tal? Meaning: How's it going?, How are things with you?
Alternative forms: “¿Qué tal estás?”
Usage: Usually informal, said to friends
This is probably one of the most common greetings you will hear amongst Spanish speaking friends. Literally meaning "What such?" or "How such?", this is a good example of an idiomatic expression. More often than not, these don't really make a lot of sense.
If we think back to the last blog post about asking Questions. “¿Qué?” is in fact a question word, and therefore starts interrogative questions.
We can use the construction “Qué tal” to ask any number of things. For example: “¿Qué tal tu día?” (how was your day?) or “¿Qué tal tu viaje?” (how was your trip?).
However, when you say “¿Qué tal?” on its own, it is implied that you are asking after the person you are talking to. ¿Cómo estás? Meaning: How are you?
Alternative forms dependant on whom one is addressing:
“Cómo estáis?”, “Cómo están ustedes?”, “Cómo estamos?”
An almost identical meaning in spirit to “¿Qué tal?”, but more literally close to English, as we really are asking “How are you?”.
Remember “¿Qué tal?” is not a literal expression at all, and very idiomatic.
If you are addressing a group of people, you would use the forms “Cómo estáis?” (how are you all?) or “¿Cómo están ustedes?” (formal version), and even “Cómo estamos?” (how are we all doing?) Buenos días Meaning: Good morning
Alternatives: “buen día” (more often said in parting)
Usage: Generally, before lunchtime
In Spanish, you do not wish someone a literal good morning, but rather “good days”.
Remember: In the Spanish speaking world, it is common to wish someone a good morning, right up until lunchtime, even if lunchtime is technically well into the afternoon. Buenas Meaning: An abbreviated version of any of the below alternatives
Alternatives: “Buenas tardes”, “Buenas noches”, “Buenos dias”
Usage: General greeting used at any time of the day.
Considered a shortened version of “Buenas tardes” (good afternoon) or “Buenas noches” (good night). Whilst, it is more likely to be heard in the afternoon, it can also be used in place of “Buenos días” in the morning. For the avoidance of doubt: when used in isolation even in the morning it's still “Buenas” and not “Buenos".
Note: In English we usually wish someone a good night, only in parting. But in Spanish, “Buenas noches” (Good night) is also a greeting. ¿Qué pasa? Meaning: What's happening?, What's up?
Alternative phrases: “¿Qué pasó?”, “¿Qué fue?”
Usage: Usually informal, said to friends
“¿Qué pasa?” literally means “What is passing (happening)?” right now.
Whereas “¿Qué pasó?” means ”What passed (happened)?”.
And “¿Qué fue?” means “What was?”.
The later two alternatives are used less commonly in mainland Spain, but can be often heard in the Spanish Canary Islands, and parts of south America. Estimado señor Meaning: Dear Sir
Alternatives: “Estimada señora”, “Estimados señores”, “Muy señor mió”, “Muy señora mía”, “Querido”, “Querida”
Usage: Used when starting a letter or email
No list of greetings would be complete without explaining how to address someone in a letter or email.
In Spanish we follow the similar formalities when writing to someone as in English. That is to say: you don’t start a letter with “Hello”, but usually with “Dear….”.
In Spanish we have a few different levels of formality when starting a letter with dear.
The least formal version of dear is: “Querido David” (Dear David), “Querida María” (Dear María), or “Queridos David y María” (Dear David and María). Notice, we must observe both gender and plurality agreement when constructing our version of dear.
Querido would be considered too casual for use in business though. In that case, we use Estimado instead. Examples being: “Estimado señor Torres” (Dear Mr Torres) or “Estimada señora García”, (Dear Mrs García).
Finally, if you do not know the names of whom you are writing to, you would use. “Muy señor mío” which can be thought of as like saying “My dear Sir”. Again, use female and plural forms where necessary. Adiós Meaning: Goodbye, bye
Usage: When departing not expecting to see the person again soon.
“Adiós” is to Goodbye, what “Hola” is to Hello.
Whilst being the de facto
Spanish word for goodbye, in my experience it’s rarely used. That’s not to say it’s unusual. But there are plenty of other ways to part company which more likely to be heard.
A good example being “Ciao”.
Now, if you’re thinking that sounds rather Italian, you’d be correct. It is in fact an Italian word that has crept into the vocabulary. Yet it’s extremely common. Hasta luego Meaning: See you later
Alternative phrases: “Hasta pronto”, “Hasta entonces”, “Hasta mañana”, “Hasta ahora”
Usage: Departing inferring that you will meet again at the prescribed time
We already looked at the salutation “Hasta luego” in a previous blog entry deconstructing Spanish phrases. There we learnt that hasta means until
, so we’re really saying “until later”. But you can change “luego” for any word pertaining to when you next plan to meet.
So, we can equally say “Hasta pronto” (see you soon), “Hasta entonces” (see you then), “Hasta ahora” (see you in a minute), “Hasta mañana” (see you tomorrow), all using the “Hasta…” construction.
The word “Hasta” means until,
not see you.
This is in the same spirit as the English expression “Until we meet again”. Venga Meaning: alright, come on, agreed
Usage: Interjection when leaving. Often used in combination with other words to signal leaving.
I thought I’d throw a bit of a curveball into this list and attempt to explain a word that whilst doesn’t mean goodbye, it can often be heard when people part company.
“venga” literally means “come on”.
It can also mean “alright”, in the sense that “come on then” and “alright then” could be considered more or less the same in some situations.
In English you might end a conversation with “I’m off now, alright, see you later”.
In Spanish this would be “me voy, venga, hasta luego”.
So we can see, the use of “venga” in this case is merely as an interjection. But it is a word you will hear a lot.
Sometimes two people will end a conversation exchanging a single word each: “Venga”. It’s just an agreement that the conversation has come to an end. Saludos Meaning: Regards
Alternative phrases: “saludos cordiales”, “atentamente”, “muy atentamente”, “muchas gracias”, “un abrazo”, “besos”
Usage: Finishing a letter or email
Of course, if we’ve learnt how to start a letter, we need to know how to finish it. The following table gives us a little list of possible options. Some formal, others less so!
Conclusion | En conclusión
|regards ||saludos |
|kind regards ||saludos cordiales |
|many thanks ||muchas gracias |
|sincerely ||atentamente |
|yours sincerely ||muy atentamente |
|hugs ||un abrazo |
|kisses ||besos |
|with love ||con amor |
Salutations of any kind, hopefully should feel easy to learn, as they are something you can practise easily.
Knowing both formal and informal forms of greetings and which type of situation warrants which type of word, will undoubtedly be welcome additions to your vocabulary; and of course will help make that all-important first impression whenever you interact in Spanish.