Hola sign

How to Say “Hello” in Spanish and Other Spanish Greetings

Maria Claudia Alvarado Published on October 27, 2023

Saying “hi” is important in every language. In Spanish, we begin most of our conversations with a greeting to show appreciation or respect for the other person. But, depending on where you are, you might need to become familiar with new ways to say “hola.” In this article, we’ll show you the different phrases you can use to greet someone in Spanish.

Lady waving hello

Formal Ways to Say Hello in Spanish

In Spanish, we don’t have a formal variation for “hola.” Instead, we base our greetings on the time of the day. This is an appropriate way to greet all kinds of people in a polite manner. For example, if you go into a convenience store, you can greet the store clerk like this before you ask for their help. Most Spanish speakers also consider this to be the right way to greet the elderly and use more casual greetings with people their age or friends. Note that while “hola” is also valid, people often consider it to be slightly informal and less fitting for formal occasions.

Here are the formal greetings we use in Spanish:

  • Buenos días (Good morning)
  • Buenas tardes (Good afternoon)
  • Buenas noches (Good night)

Casual Ways to Say Hello in Spanish

There are many casual ways to say hello to your friends in Spanish. Depending on who you’re speaking with or where you are, you can hear different variations of the word “Hola” or “¿Cómo estás?” Using these kinds of greetings can help you learn the many ways to say “hello” in informal contexts and fit into a casual environment. There’s no specific time of day for the following phrases, but note that some of them are more common in certain regions than in others.

Here are some unique ways of saying “hello”:

  • Quiubo (Qué hubo)
  • Holi
  • Hola
  • Buenas
  • Ey

Email/Text/Phone Greetings in Spanish

In the past, we used to pay for each text message we sent and each call we made. As a result, people came up with shorter ways to say hello. We still use “Buenos días” and “Hola” to answer the phone, but the following greetings are more common. Note that most of them are like a shorter way of asking “Who’s speaking?” and not necessarily an upfront “Hi.” 

Here are some ways you can say “hello” when you answer the phone in Spanish:

  • Diga
  • ¿Aló?
  • ¿Hola?
  • ¿Sí?

If you’re writing an e-mail, however, you need to use a greeting that fits the tone. If you’re writing to a friend, you can use the informal greetings, “Hola…,” or “Querido…,” (Dear…,). You can also start your e-mail with “Estimado…,” for a more formal approach.

Greetings at Different Times of the Day

Like other languages, Spanish speakers use the time of day to greet others with formality. But, even if you’re just using them to show respect to strangers, there needs to be some coherence in how you apply them. Using “Buenos días” (Good morning) instead of “Buenas noches” when it’s pitch black outside might throw off some people, for example.

Here’s a quick guide to help you use formal greetings according to the time of the day. 

  • Buenos días/Buen día – 5:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
  • Buenas tardes – 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
  • Buenas noches – 6:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m.

These rules aren’t too strict, so there’s no harm if you say “Buenas tardes” instead of “Buenos dias” if there’s just a couple of hours of difference. Take these times as a guide, and you’ll know how to greet Spanish speakers with confidence.

Country-Specific Greetings

Like other languages, Spanish can change depending on where you are, so it makes sense that you can also hear other ways to say “hello.” While there are some similar variations that are easy to spot, like “holi,” there are also completely different phrases that can leave wondering what to say. For example, in Costa Rica people like to greet each other with “¡Pura vida!” This is a greeting that has made the country stand out for years and it’s a sign of positivity.

Here are some common colloquial greetings you might hear in different Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America: 

  • Pura vida – Costa Rica
  • Quiubo – Colombia
  • Holi – Used mostly in Chile, but pretty common in the rest of South America
  • Habla – Perú 
  • Wena – Chile
  • ¿Qué onda? – México
  • Épale – Venezuela

What are Some Spanish Greeting Faux Pas?

Even with a perfect command of the Spanish language, there are still some cultural manners you need to understand in order to fit in with native Spanish speakers. A faux pas is a social or cultural mistake that can put you in an embarrassing situation or give people a wrong impression of you. If you want to get out the best of your Spanish interactions, here are some cultural faux-pas that you need to avoid: 

Spanish Greetings: Kisses on the Cheek

Kissing each other on the cheek is common among Spanish speakers when greeting each other, but it’s not always appropriate. To understand when is proper to greet others in this way, you need to check the context and the scenario.

For example, kissing your friends, family, or people you’re close to on the cheek is okay, but we don’t greet strangers or our bosses in this manner. However, it can be considered impolite to not kiss someone you’re being introduced to on the cheek. While this form of greeting is most common amongst women, men also kiss their male friends on the cheeks in countries like Argentina or Uruguay. 

Spanish Greetings: Number of Kisses

It’s possible you already know the basics of greeting people with a kiss, but there’s more to discover. While giving your friends and family a kiss on the cheek is pretty normal in most Spanish-speaking regions, there are places where one kiss isn’t enough. For example, in South America is more common to greet people with one air kiss or kiss starting on the left cheek. In Spain, however, it’s normal to kiss women two times on the cheek when you are introduced or to say hi.

If you aren’t sure about the kissing culture of the country you’re visiting, it’s always okay to ask. This way, you can get a clear idea of when it’s okay to kiss people and mix with the crowd without problems. 

Spanish Greetings: Half Hugs

Half hugs are the most common way of greeting each other in the Spanish-speaking world. They might not seem as personal or friendly as a full hug, but they’re still acceptable among friends and family. But there are some exceptions you need to keep in mind.

For instance, a half hug might not be enough if you’re greeting a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Spanish speakers are warm people and like to show and feel appreciation through gestures, and a half hug is too casual for significant reunions or meetings. Some might feel you’re being intentionally cold or think you’re rude. To give you an example, it’s probably not a good idea to greet your in-laws with a half hug, especially when you’re being introduced.  

How to Practice Spanish Greetings

While speaking to Spanish native speakers is the best way to learn the language, there are some other ways you can become accustomed to the way people greet one another in the Spanish-speaking world. You can find a language partner in a language exchange platform like Tandem and ask them to teach you more about their culture or hire a private tutor on a website like italki to help you practice speaking Spanish. You can also watch Spanish movies and TV shows from different countries and observe how they interact to learn different ways to say “hello” in Spanish. Remember to be patient and consistent to make steady progress. 

Final Thoughts

The way we greet each other is an important part of socialization and an aspect you must learn if you want to speak Spanish like a native speaker. There are many ways to say “hi” in Spanish, so you need to make sure your greeting fits the level of formality, tone, and context of the scenario. Of course, sticking to a simple “hola” is a quick way to handle basic interaction, but with more practice and experience, you too can master Spanish greetings in no time!

Maria Claudia Alvarado

Maria Alvarado is a content writer and translator from Lima, Peru. She graduated from the Savannah College of Arts and Design in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Writing. She is fluent in Spanish and English, has intermediate knowledge of French and German, and is learning Japanese. She hopes to bring consciousness about the importance of language learning through her articles and aspires to learn as many languages as possible.

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