Man and woman walking together cartoon

Hello in Italian (a Complete Guide to Formal and Informal Greetings)

Have you heard the word Ciao before? And have you heard Buongiorno? Chances are that you have. When should you use them? And are there alternatives to these greetings? In this post, you will learn all the different ways to say hello in Italian!

Italians love chiacchierare (to chat). So, you will find yourself frequently in conversations with Italians. On the other hand, there are plenty of ways to greet somebody in Italian. So you will not run out of phrases for these occasions.

However, how you greet someone in Italian depends on how well you know the person. In other words, your greeting depends on your relationship with them. The time of day also matters. Plus, other factors about your meeting are taken into account too.

Human Lady and the tramp cartoon

Another point is that each Italian region has a sub-compilation of greetings. There are many local languages in Italy that Italians mistakenly call dialects. These regional languages evolved from Latin independently. Thus, they can not be considered Italian dialects. Click here to read more about how the Italian language came into existence. And why it became the official language above all the other local languages.

While different regions have their greetings, we won’t address them here. Instead, we’ll focus on the most common greetings in standard Italian. You can use these greetings all across Italy, and people will understand you.

How to say Hello in Italian – Informal

The informal and most common way to say hello in Italian is ciao. You can use it with friends or when talking to a child. It is frequent among young people or when an older person addresses a child or a teenager.

It applies as a greeting to say “hello.” But it is fitting to say “goodbye” too.

The origin of this word goes back to the Latin expression schiavo, which means “(I am) your slave.” The expression was not a literal statement of fact. It was just a flimsy promise of goodwill among friends. The translation to our modern-day terms would be “at your service.”

With time, this greeting eventually got shortened to ciao. It also lost all its submissive connotations. It even came to be used as an informal salutation by speakers of all classes.

Many accept that the novel A Farewell to Arms (1929), written by Ernest Hemingway, introduced ciao into English. The storyline takes place in northeast Italy during World War I.

Since ciao is such an informal word, you should be careful when using it. Please do not address an adult you do not know using ciao. And by the way, do not use it at a cafe or restaurant to greet your waiter. Nonetheless, if you are a regular customer, and the waiter is your friend, you could use it.

Have you heard the expressions ciao bella or ciao bello? They translate into “Hello beautiful” or even “Hello dear.” Be careful not to use them with a person you do not know. Do not say ciao bella to a woman thinking it is flattering. As in English, saying “hello beautiful” to a woman may make her uncomfortable. It is something you see happening in movies portraying a cliche Italy. But people do not act like that in real life. 

How to say Hello in Italian – Formal

A more formal way to say hello in Italian is buongiorno. It’s the first greeting you should remember when traveling.

Buongiorno translates into “good day.” But you can use it almost any time of day. The exception is in the evenings when you would use buona sera instead. We also explain the use of buona sera further in this post.

Buongiorno is appropriate when you do not know the person you are greeting (this includes a hotelier, staff member, or anybody in the street). But it stays convenient also when you see someone regularly but do not know them well.

Here is an example. You are staying in a hotel for a week. And you deal with the same staff member every day. So you are wondering if it is appropriate to keep the greeting buongiorno, or switch to the most informal ciao. In that case, the advice is to keep using buongiorno.

Have you heard of the expression buon pomeriggio? It means “Good afternoon.” However, this expression is not for when you meet someone. Even if it is the afternoon, you still say buongiorno. So when do you use buon pomeriggio? It is only for parting from someone. So if you leave a cafe in the afternoon (after a meal), you will say grazie, buon pomeriggio. The equivalent in English would be “Thank you, have a nice day.”

How to say Hello in Italian in the evening – formal

As mentioned in the previous section, there is an exception to using buongiorno. In the evening, to greet somebody formally and politely, you say buona sera. This expression translates into “good evening.” And you can use it the same way as the English equivalent.

If you enter a restaurant for dinner, the correct greeting would be: Buonasera, ha un tavolo per quattro, per favore? (Good evening, would you please have a table for four?)

You can still use buonasera to greet people after dark. It does not matter if it is late at night. As mentioned in the section above concerning buon pomeriggio, there is equally an expression used only for parting at night. This expression is buona notte and compares to the English “good night.” As in English, it is only a parting expression used to wish someone a good night.

How to say Hello in Italian by email or letter – formal

Salve comes from Latin. And it is a formal greeting you often see in writing.

It will not be strange to see emails start with this word. Here is an example: Salve, grazie per la mail.., which translates into “Hello, thank you for your email…

You may also hear it occasionally in the spoken language.

In writing, you may also find different expressions:

Cordiali saluti, Cordialmente, Saluti. But people hardly ever use these in spoken language.

Buondì

So, to say “good day” to someone, you can use buongiorno and buondì has a grave accent over the i. The purpose is to distinguish it from the simple preposition di. If you hear someone tell you buondì, it means they are wishing you a good day.

As a curious fact, buondì is also the name of a prominent packaged cake for kids! 

How to say Hello in Italian on the phone

In Italian, you don’t say “hello” when you answer the phone. So, don’t say “ciao” or “buongiorno.”

The word used to say hello in Italian on the phone is pronto. Pronto means ready. So, you pick up the phone and say: pronto? Which translates: Hello?

And on the other end, the caller may say: pronto, parlo con Pietro? Hello, am I speaking with Pietro?

Wrapping Up

We had fun building this list of ways to say hello in Italian. We hope you found it helpful!

Do you have another phrase for greeting people? Please share with us. Or comment on the topic.

Do you want to keep learning Italian? Here is a podcast-style course you can start for free.

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4 Comments

  1. Helpful is the adjective I would use to describe your post. I had no idea there were so many different ways to say hello in Italian. I particularly appreciate the distinction between the formal and informal options.

    A few years ago, I visited Rome for the first time. I tried to learn a few words and phrases. I heard the word pronto quite often. But up until now, I thought it meant quickly or fast. I am glad I came across your post. I may even use Pronto now when speaking on the phone to an Italian friend.

    When I was in Rome, I played safe and always used Buongiorno. But I did hear ciao used frequently as well.

    1. Hi, Jenny. You’re right that Pronto tends to confuse us if we’re familiar with Spanish. In Spanish, Pronto means quickly or soon.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with the language in Rome. Many will find your insights helpful!

  2. I find this site very easy to navigate, and it left me reading more and more.

    My wife and I had the chance to travel to San Marino for our son’s world soccer tournament several years ago. The team from Nova Scotia here in Canada did not fair off so well, but they had the time of their lives. And having contact with Italian was delightful. And it opens our appetite for learning more.

    1. Thank you for your kind words about our site. I hope to see you around for our next posts. You will find them interesting too.

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