How To Say Hello In Spanish And Respond (Formal + Informal)
- Written byJada Lòpez
- Read time12 mins
Hola only scratches the surface when it comes to the number of Spanish greetings out there.
Although hola might be the most common introductory expression that you learn in Spanish courses as a beginner, there are so many more ways to greet someone.
When you’re introducing yourself in Spanish - as in any language - you’ll want to ensure you make the best first impression. That’s exactly why having a range of greetings ready to use when speaking with a range of native Spanish speakers is important.
You’ll need them if you’re speaking with friends, colleagues, your bosses, your in-laws… even a stranger who you’re meeting for the very first time.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a selection of typical contexts in which you’re likely to use Spanish greetings, before exploring 16 alternatives to hola.
How to spell hi in Spanish
Hola means hi in Spanish, and it’s spelled H-O-L-A.
The H is silent, however. So the actual pronunciation is O-L-A.
Formal vs informal — a quick guide
If you’re greeting someone in Spanish, context counts! It’s an extra thing you’ll need to bear in mind as it’s quite important.
There is a range of contexts you’ll need to be aware of before you greet someone. This is because you should always try to use the appropriate greeting for the right situation.
Part of this includes using usted when addressing someone you don’t know, as opposed to tu, which is used for casual contexts.
But, let’s return to the different contexts you’ll find yourself in when saying hi in Spanish. The three main situations are formal, informal and casual.
To shed some more light on this, we’ve gone into a bit more detail on these common contexts.
Formal contexts are when you greet someone you’ve never met before.
In this situation, you should remember to be respectful when introducing yourself for the first time.
There are particular greetings appropriate for this context, which we have covered further down.
Informal contexts are when you meet with your colleagues or distant friends.
You’ll also find that if you’re meeting new friends, it’s important to use a slightly informal register.
One example of this might be if you are greeting acquaintances of your friends.
Casual contexts, including social environments, call for a very informal greeting or tone of voice and greeting.
In these cases, you might even hear a few slang or colloquial phrases used.
Some people who fit into the casual context might be your immediate family and your close friends, so certain informal greetings are more appropriate in this situation.
16 Spanish greetings to use in different contexts
Now that you know how important the context is when using Spanish greetings, here is our selection of greeting options that you’ll typically use in different contexts.
If you are a complete newcomer to the Spanish language, don’t worry — we have included hola in the list to help you know how it’s pronounced and which contexts to use it in.
As we’ve mentioned, hola is the standard greeting recognised in Spain and Latin America as a common introductory word.
It’s extremely common to hear this polite greeting used in a range of contexts, as you can use it in both formal and informal situations.
Hola translates to ‘hello’ in English.
If you’re in the supermarket, at the post office, in a restaurant or greeting your colleagues, to greet them you’ll typically use the word hola.
Even in cases where you see your neighbour when leaving or entering your apartment, to be courteous you should use hola to greet them — just as you would say ‘hello’ in English.
To say it correctly, remember that the h in hola isn’t pronounced. It sounds like ’ola’, which is actually a word that you’ll hear on Spanish paseo marítimos everywhere — meaning ‘wave’.
2. ¿Qué tal?
Meaning: how are things?
The Spanish greeting ¿qué tal? is considered a common casual greeting.
You’ll hear it regularly in Spain and it’s considered an informal way of greeting people. The only contexts in which we wouldn’t recommend using ¿qué tal? is in the middle of a business meeting, or with completely random strangers.
It would sound quite strange if you were to greet your business colleagues or someone you don’t know with this phrase.
Instead, consider using the phrase ¿cómo está? which is next on our list of greetings.
3. ¿Cómo está?
Meaning: how are you?
If you want to ask how someone is, or what’s new with them, in a formal context you would typically use the phrase ¿cómo está?
It translates to ’how are you?’ in English. Note that this phrase uses the third person singular, or usted, meaning that when you use it, you’re addressing someone formally.
Some contexts in which you’re likely to hear ¿cómo está? are with business colleagues or when you are speaking with a stranger.
Bear in mind that this Spanish greeting is typically used in Latin America and heard less in Spain.
4. ¿Cómo estás?
Meaning: how are you?
What about if you’re in an slightly informal situation, such as greeting an acquaintance who you haven’t seen for a while?
In this case, you would use the phrase ¿cómo estás? Notice that the verb estás uses the second person singular form or tú, and that there’s a significant difference between ¿cómo está? and ¿cómo estás?
Whereas ¿cómo está? is used in formal contexts, you would typically use ¿cómo estás? in slightly informal contexts.
Keep this subtle but significant difference in mind to avoid receiving funny looks from native speakers!
5. Buenos días
Meaning: good morning
If it’s before midday and you’ve got to greet someone, buenos días is the phrase you’ll need.
This phrase literally translates to ‘good day’ in English or ‘good morning’. The phrase buenos días is used in slightly formal or neutral contexts.
And remember, when you use this Spanish greeting, it’s only good for the morning. It would be strange to say buenos días in the afternoon, particularly when what you really should say is ‘good afternoon’.
This brings us to our next Spanish greeting…
6. Buenas tardes
Meaning: good afternoon
…We use the Spanish greeting buenas tardes strictly in the afternoon.
Just like the phrase buenos días, buenas tardes is used in slightly formal or neutral contexts. If you’re studying Spanish at an introductory or beginner level, take note of the difference in gender between buenos días and buenas tardes.
Whereas the masculine noun el día is complemented by the masculine adjective buenos, the feminine noun la tarde is complemented by the feminine adjective buenas.
With us so far?
Also, did you notice that both buenos días and buenas tardes both use the plural form (indicated by the -s)? There are many theories about why Spanish natives pluralise their phrase for ‘good afternoon’.
It’s thought that the expressive plural is one of the key theories for this.
It suggests that many Spanish words and phrases take the plural form to reflect the ‘intensity’ of the speakers intent. Therefore, Spanish speakers use the expressive plural to show respect.
Other examples of the expressive plural include:
Felices fiestas, and
7. Buenas noches
Meaning: good night
When the sun goes down, and you want to greet someone in a slightly formal or neutral context, you should use the phrase buenas noches.
Take note that, as with the Spanish greeting buenas tardes, buenas noches takes uses the feminine adjective buenas. This is because the noun la noche is also feminine.
You’ll also hear some television, podcast and radio presenters using the phrase muy buenas noches to open their evening programme and address their viewers or listeners.
Meaning: morning / afternoon / evening
You’ll also often hear native Spanish speakers using the phrase buenas on its own, or occasionally muy buenas. Buenas is a concise way of saying ‘good afternoon’. The English equivalent would be like shortening ‘good afternoon’ to just ‘afternoon’.
What you should bear in mind about this Spanish greeting is that it’s normally reserved for informal contexts.
That said, if you’re in a Spanish restaurant and are being served by the waiter, it’s not uncommon to hear them say buenas, or muy buenas when they greet you.
9. ¿Qué pasa?
Meaning: what’s happening?
Here’s a very informal Spanish greeting for you — ¿qué pasa? An English translation of this phrase would give you ‘what’s happening?’ or ‘what’s up?’ and it’s a conversational opener used between friends.
So, if you’re meeting with friends at a bar, when you greet them you can use ¿qué pasa? as your opening word.
You might have also heard the phrase ¿qué pasó? in Spain as well, but there is a difference between these two phrases.
¿Qué pasó? uses the preterite tense.
It is used to ask ‘what happened?’ as opposed to greeting someone. One context in which you might use ¿qué pasó? is if someone is telling you a story or an anecdote. You would say ¿y qué pasó? to find out what happened next.
If you’re invited to someone’s home, you’ll hear this Spanish greeting used by the host or hostess when you arrive. Bienvenido/bienvenida means ‘welcome’ in English. Keep in mind that it has many forms — masculine, feminine and plural.
To use it correctly, remember that if you’re speaking to a group of people you should use the plural form bienvenidos.
And as we’ve touched on, masculine and feminine forms should be taken into account when you’re welcoming people. If you’re addressing women, stick to bienvenida. If you’re addressing both men and women, use bienvenidos.
There might be situations in which you’re greeting someone over the phone. What’s the ideal way to say ‘hello’ in contexts like these?
Well, in this case, you’ll hear the word diga? being used frequently by Spanish speakers in various countries such as Argentina and Spain.
¿Diga? is a Spanish greeting used particularly if you’re unsure who is calling. It literally means ‘say’, or ‘talk’, which might seem impolite to a non-native speaker as it takes the imperative form, but it is a commonly used greeting.
A slight variation of the Spanish greeting ¿diga? is the phrase ¿dígame? which also uses the imperative form and translates as ‘tell me’ in English.
There are other contexts similar to greeting someone on the phone that require a different opener. For instance, if someone rings your doorbell, and you live in an apartment, you might think that when you answer the intercom buzzer you should also say ¿diga?
But in this case, it’s common to respond using the word ¿sí? or simply ¿hola? to find out who is on the other end of the line.
12. ¡Cuánto tiempo!
Meaning: it’s been ages!
After your initial greeting, if you’re meeting with someone who you haven’t seen in a very long time, you might like to follow up with the phrase ¡cuánto tiempo!
This Spanish greeting literally translates as ‘how much time’, but it means ‘it’s been ages!’ or ‘it’s been such a long time!’
You can use this greeting with friends as it’s considered an informal or casual greeting. It lets them know how happy you are to see them!
13. Estimado señor/señora
Meaning: dear sir/madam
At some point, you might want to greet someone via email or letter.
The typical way to do this is with the Spanish greeting estimado señor/señora, which translates as ‘dear sir/madam’.
This is used in formal contexts and should be reserved for people you’ve never met before.
Meaning: pleased to meet you
Once you’ve used your Spanish greeting to say ‘hello’ to someone for the first time, you might want to use the phrase encantado/encantada afterwards. It translates as ‘pleased to meet you’ or ‘charmed’ in English, and you’ll hear it used frequently in Spain.
Note the gender difference, here.
If you’re male, you should say encantado as a follow-up. If you are female, you should use encantada.
Take note that when you first greet someone in Spain, a cultural norm is to dar dos besos or give two kisses on the cheek. So, when you follow up with the phrase encantada or encantado, that’s the ideal time to dar dos besos.
15. Hola a todos/a todas
Meaning: hello everyone
Say you’re teaching or about to give a speech. In these cases, you’ll find yourself greeting a large group of people. Instead of saying hello to everyone individually, you can use the Spanish greeting hola a todos. It means ‘hello all’, or ‘hello everyone’.
Bear in mind that if you’re greeting a group of women, you should use the word todas, and that if you’re greeting a mixed group, you should use todos.
16. ¿Cómo va?
Meaning: how’s it going?
Our final Spanish greeting is the phrase ¿cómo va? This translates to ‘how’s it going’ in English and is used in casual contexts between friends.
For example, if you’re going for drinks with friends, when you greet them you can say ¿cómo va? Or, if you’re in Mexico and addressing friends who you’ve grown up with, you might use the phrase ¿cómo onda? This Spanish greeting also means ‘how’s it going?’
Using Spanish greetings: the takeaway points
With this range of Spanish greetings, it’s now over to you. It’s time to use them in the right situations and learn how to say hi in Spanish properly.
Whether you’re saying a casual ‘hello’ to your best friends, writing a formal letter to your bosses, answering the telephone or intercom, or greeting a group of people, you have the perfect Spanish greeting in your vocabulary to use as an introductory opener.
Remember, as you become more and more advanced, the situation in which you’re greeting someone becomes more important.
So always bear in mind that your Spanish greetings are ‘context sensitive’.
And, when you’re greeting someone, don’t forget the Spanish custom of giving two kisses!
I also recommend checking out our article on Spanish numbers too.
Do you know any other Spanish greetings to add to the list?
Share them below in the comments!