It’s a fact. Greetings are one the very first things we learn in a new language. So, my question for you is: do you already know how to say hello in Italian?
You can’t go to Italy without first knowing how to say hello when you meet someone. Actually, anytime we go to a different country, we need to know how to greet people to begin a conversation in a friendly way.
I remember when I went to Slovenia this summer. I didn’t speak a word of Slovenian, but I decided to learn some basic sentences, and I began with greetings. Immediately, I realised that I had to make a distinction between formal and informal greetings.
That wasn’t a surprise to me. Being an Italian native speaker, I’m used to making a sharp difference between formal and informal context.
This is one of the things that differentiates Italian from English.
If English is your first language, you’re surely finding it a bit odd, as there is only one way to address people, whether they’re friends or strangers.
HOW TO SAY HELLO IN ITALIAN
when speaking Italian, you have to mark the difference between formal and informal register.
For instance, you can’t say ciao to a complete stranger. You would sound a bit awkward and rude.
Similarly, you can’t say buongiorno when you meet your best friend.
Italy has got its own politeness rules that we all need to take into account if we want to sound natural when we speak.
So, here’s a brief guide that will show you how to say hello in Italian in different contexts and moments of the day.
Here you have a few examples of how you can use these greetings in your day-to-day conversations.
Ciao, Luca. (Hi, Luca.)
Ciao, Angela. (Hi, Angela.)
Buongiorno, signora Mauri. (Good morning/Good afternoon, Mr. Mauri.)
Buongiorno, signor Bianchi. (Good morning/Good afternoon, Mr. Bianchi.)
Buonasera, dottore. (Good evening, doctor.)
Buonasera a Lei. (Good evening to you.)
Buongiorno. (Good morning / Good afternoon)
As you can see, in the first dialogue we have used ciao and only a first name (Luca and Angela), therefore, this conversation can only be informal.
In the second conversation, we have buongiorno, Signor, Signora and the people’s last name, which means that this dialogue is a formal one. Signor is the equivalent of Mr. and its full version would be Signore. However, when we use signore with a last name, we take away the final -e and we say signor. On the other hand, Signora is the equivalent of Mrs. and it doesn’t change when we use it with a last name.
In the third dialogue, we have buonasera, which means that we are in a formal context. After that, we find the title dottore, which we use to call doctors or anyone who has a degree. Titles are pretty important in Italy. Although we’re becoming everyday more informal, we tend to preserve a certain degree of formality when it is required.
Finally, in the fourth dialogue, we have quite an ambiguous situation. The conversation begins with salve, therfore, we know we are in a formal context. However, the person who says salve doesn’t want to keep the conversation too formal. He or she want to be polite without exaggerating, which is why they come up with salve. It is quite common to hear buongiorno or buonasera in response to salve. This is because some people don’t really like the ambiguity that comes it and prefer to have a clearer communication.
Now that you know how to say hello in Italian, I would like to give you a small and simple exercise:
think about the people you meet during the day, like your friends and parents, your boss or the cashier at the supermarket. What greeting would you use with each of them?
It’s a simple exercise but, if you take into account what you’ve learnt in this lesson, you will be able to choose the right Italian greeting once you arrive in Italy.
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