Italian greetings and how to say hello are the first things you’ll learn in any Italian course.
Italians are an open and expressive people. Unlike English, greetings in Italian have nuances that are deeply rooted in Italian culture. They put a lot of emphasis on what they call buone maniere, or good manners.
Like many other languages, the time of day, as well as your relationship with the person you’re greeting all come into play. Therefore, it’s essential that you learn the time and place for different methods of saying hello if you really want to learn the Italian language and understand the culture.
How to say hello and greet people in Italian
Below are the various ways you can say hello to someone in Italian.
If you’re looking for a quick answer, here’s the most common way to say “hello” and respond in Italian: Ciao. (pronounced “chyaw”)
You can respond with the exact same word: Ciao.
While they can all be categorized as greetings, there’s a lot more to each greeting that simply “hello.”
I’ll try to help you make sense of it all.
English Translation: hello (also goodbye)
Ciao is perhaps the greeting most people outside of Italian think of as “hello”.
Like aloha in Hawaiian and shalom in Hebrew, it’s an all-purpose greeting and, arguably, the most common way of saying hello in Italian. It’s roughly the equivalent of “hi” in English and is used mostly in informal setting, such as among co-workers, family members and friends. It will sound off and even rude to Italians if you greet older people, business associates that you don’t know well or your boss using this greeting. If you are greeting a group of friends at the same time, you can say ciao a tutti (greetings everyone).
Ciao is derived from the Latin word schiavo, which roughly means “your humble servant”.
If you are feeling a bit confident and want to all a little nuance to your ciao greeting, you can add extra stress on the “a” to convey something like “I’m SO happy to meet you”.
English Translation: good morning
Sometimes ciao just doesn’t seem like enough of a greeting, such as when you’re greeting a shopkeeper, the concierge at your office building or apartment, or the person who is seating you at a restaurant.
Adding the time of day makes your greeting more formal than a simple “hi” without seeming stilted.
Buongiorno is usually used before noon and conveys “good morning”. You may also hear it afternoon as a “good day” greeting.
You will occasionally hear this greeting abbreviated to simply, Buondì, which is a combination of the word, buon (good) and di (day).
The great thing about greetings that add a time of day is that they may be used in both formal and informal settings. This can be easier for non-native Italian speakers, since you don’t have to analyze your relationships just to say hello.
English Translation: good afternoon
Similar to buongiorno, buon pomeriggio conveys “good afternoon” and is used until about 4:00 p.m.
This is used less frequently in Italian than buongiorno and buonasera, but there is nothing wrong with using during the appropriate time of day. It is most commonly used for departure as a “goodbye”, but you’ll occasionally hear it as “hello”.
English Translation: good evening
Buonasera, “good evening” is used from around 4:00 p.m. until around 9:00 p.m. in southern Italy.
In the north, you’ll start hearing buonasera as early as 2:00 p.m.
English Translation: good night
Buonanotte, “good night,” is used at the end of the day, when leaving a restaurant at night, to your friends and family when you part ways after an evening out.
While most often used when departing from someone, this phrase can also be used as a greeting when you encounter someone later at night (after 9:00 p.m. or so).
English Translation: be well
Salve is a greeting that can be used in either a formal or informal setting. It is derived from Latin and means roughly “good health and be safe”.
This is a good choice when you are uncertain about which tone, formal or informal, to choose. It can be used at all times of the day. The one exception to this rule is that salve is not usually used at business meetings or in professional settings.
Just as with ciao, you can use salve to greet a group of people with a single greeting by saying, salve a tutti.
Salve is derived from the Italian verb salvere (to be well), and is also used in English to refer to a healing ointment or balm.
English Translation: welcome
Benvenuto means “welcome”. You’ll hear this when you travel, such as when you board a cruise ship, enter an attraction or museum, or step up to the front desk of a hotel.
It is also commonly used by shopkeepers to greet customers.
English Translation: ready
This is how most Italians answer the telephone. Pronto literally means “ready”, so it conveys that the person answering the phone is prepared to listen to the caller.
Come stai and come sta?
English Translation: how are you?
These greetings both mean “how are you”. However, come stai is informal and come sta is formal.
In Italian, as in all Romance languages, there are two forms of the second-person singular pronoun, one is formal, the other informal. Both translate to “you” in English.
However, using the wrong one in Italy can get you into trouble. Be too formal to the girl you love, and she will likely give you the cold shoulder. Be too informal to your new client, and you might just lose that big contract. Obviously, it’s important to choose carefully.
When using the formal “how are you?”, it’s customary to use a person’s title, such as Come sta, Dr. Russo? or Come sta, professore (professor)?
Keep in mind when using come stai and come sta that you are likely to get a detailed answer to your question… as opposed to American usage where no answer is expected. If you don’t have time (or the desire) to listen to a lengthy response, it’s best to stick with another greeting.
English Translation: how’s it going?
This informal greeting translates into English roughly as “how’s it going?”
Piacere di conoscerti
English Translation: nice to meet you
This greeting, which means “nice to meet you,” is used in somewhat formal or formal situations, such as meeting a new client for the first time or being introduced to an older person.
It is usually accompanied by a handshake. (Read more about handshakes below.) An informal version of this greeting is piacere de conscerti.
Che piacere (ri)vederti
English Translation: what a pleasure to see you
This greeting, which means “what a pleasure to see you” or “what a pleasure to see you again” is used in informal settings when you haven’t seen the person you are greeting for some time.
Che se dice?
English Translation: what’s up?
This is a slang greeting that means roughly “what’s up?”
Obviously, this greeting is used in very casual situations, among friends.
Non ci vediamo da tanto tempo
English Translation: long time, no see
Another slang greeting, this one translates to “long time, no see”.
This, too, should only be used around friends and those you know well (but haven’t seen for a while).
Ehila!, Ueila! and Ehi!
English Translation: hey!
These three very casual greeting are roughly equivalent to “hey!” in English.
These are generally only used among younger people who know each other very well. They also carry an element of surprise, something like “look who’s here!“.
English Translation: lit. nice, uncle
These are street lingo, slang greetings that mean, roughly “hi”.
Be careful with slang greetings, however, as (like in other parts of the world) their popularity and usage can change quickly and using dated slang can make you look old or ridiculous or both.
English Translation: hey!
This is a Romanesco slang greeting used in and around Rome.
It roughly translates to “hey!”, “hi!” or “wow!“. Again, this greeting is used only among close (usually young) friends and family members.
Body language and Papal greetings in Italian
It’s not just words that matter when you say hello in Italian.
Gestures and body language are both as important as the words. When learning how to greet people in Italian, it’s good to know gestures as well as words.
Kissing on the cheeks
While Americans shake hands when greeting, Italians are more likely to kiss. The typical Italian greeting is to kiss the person lightly on both cheeks. This is used for family and friends as well as associates that you’ve met before. You don’t want to do this with a new client (unless they initiate it), a shopkeeper or your boss. For people you have just met and in formal situations, a handshake is more appropriate. As in America and the UK, the woman offers her hand first in a handshake.
Kissing is more prevalent in Southern Italy than in the north, where usually only women kiss and men shake hands. If you’re not sure what to do, just follow the other person’s lead.
Greeting the Pope
This isn’t a situation that you’re likely to encounter in Italy, but you never know! 🙂
You’d obviously use formal greetings with the Pope. In addition, you should address him as Santo Padre (Saint Father). In addition, when he walks into the room or when he stands, you should stand also, as a sign of respect.
If he speaks directly to you, you should bow and shake his hand. (If you are Roman Catholic, you may kiss his ring instead of shaking hands.)
Saying hello in Italian doesn’t need to be complicated
Does all of this sound complicated, just to say hello?
It doesn’t have to be. Just be careful with informal and formal situations and how what time of day it is. When in doubt, just use salve or ciao. It works in pretty much any situation.
Got any other memorable Italian greetings that we’ve missed?
Share them below!