Hello in Italian is one of the basic words you learn when you start studying the language. Together with all the other forms of greetings, it can help you to approach native Italian speakers and start a conversation with them.
There are greeting expressions that are more formal and others that are more conversational. Still, there are no significant differences from one region to another. We all use the same expressions and gestures. And of course, there’s more to it than a simple “ciao”.
Let’s find out the many ways to say “hello” in Italian, as well as how to say other Italian greetings such as “good morning”, “goodnight” and “goodbye.”
Expressions to say “hello” in Italian
Let’s now see a series of basic Italian greetings and how they’re used.
1. “Hi” in Italian – Ciao
Ciao is an informal Italian word that is used when meeting and greeting people. It means both “Hi” and “Goodbye” and is widely employed in both the spoken and the written language, as long as the setting is informal.
Opening a conversation with Ciao, come stai? or Ciao, come va? (which means “Hi, how are you?” in Italian) is very common. In this case, Come va? is not a real question, instead a form of pleasantry to start a conversation, the same as “Hello” in Italian.
Ciao can also be accompanied by Che mi racconti? (“How is it going?”), which is another way to say “how are you” in Italian. This expression is meant to invite you to talk about the recent news in your life. It’s just one of the many ways to say “how are you” in Italian.
Ciao can also be used to end a conversation with the meaning of “Goodbye” or “Bye.” It is the most diffused way to say goodbye in Italian, like when you’re on the phone or when you close an informal e-mail.
Children often repeat this formula twice in the spoken language while waving their hand: “Ciao ciao“, with the same meaning as the English “Bye-bye.”
2. “Hey” in Italian – Hey
Hey is another informal expression to say Hello in Italian. Its meaning is the same as the English word “Hey” and is mostly used in conversations between friends, both spoken and written (like texts or WhatsApp messages).
3. The generic “Hello” in Italian – Salve
Salve is an ancient greeting coming from the Latin language that etymologically means stai bene, stai in salute (“You’re good”, “You’re healthy”).
This expression has crossed the entire history of Italian in different contexts of use, including literary ones.
Nowadays, it is used to say “Hello” in situations where we’re not sure of the degree of formality and register we should keep with our interlocutor.
4. “Excuse me” in Italian – Scusi or Mi scusi
This expression is something you’ll regularly use when sightseeing in Italy. It’s what you need to grab someone’s attention to get information or to ask for directions. It translates to the English “Excuse me” and is used to address someone formally. It’s reserved for people you don’t know.
Italian greetings based on the time of the day
5. “Good morning” and “Good evening” in Italian – Buongiorno vs Buonasera
For example, when entering a shop or an office where you don’t know anyone, you won’t greet with a Ciao but you’ll use Buongiorno or Buonasera. The same goes for if you’re meeting a teacher or anyone else with whom you’re not on a first-name basis.
Buongiorno literally means “Good morning” in Italian, while Buonasera means “Good evening”.
Their use is somewhat controversial: some people say that Buongiorno should be used until 1 PM – the time when most Italians have their lunch – and Buonasera is for the whole afternoon. Others prefer to use Buongiorno as long as there’s daylight outside.
The fact is that it’s difficult to determine the appropriate time of the day when to switch from Buongiorno to Buonasera, since the perception of time varies significantly from person to person and from one region to another.
In Tuscany, for example, people greet each other with Buonasera from the early afternoon. In Sardinia, Buonasera is used immediately after lunch, regardless of the time they have finished eating.
6. “Good afternoon” in Italian – Buon pomeriggio
The word Pomeriggio – afternoon – comes from the Latin expression “post meridiem” which means “after midday” and is the part of the day between 12 PM and 5 PM. Therefore, it’s in this timeframe that the expression buon pomeriggio – “Good afternoon” in Italian – should be used.
However, you won’t hear it often in Italy because it is not widely used among native speakers.
7. “Goodnight” in Italian – Buonanotte
Buonanotte means “Good night” in Italian and can be written both as a single word or two words. In both cases, the pronunciation is the same.
Buonanotte is used to wish someone a good night just before going to bed. When you’re putting children to bed, it’s common to tell them Buonanotte, sogni d’oro, meaning “Good night. Sweet dreams”.
8. “Have a good night” in Italian – Buona serata
Here is when it gets tricky: although spelled similarly, Buona serata should not be confused with Buonasera.
In fact, Buona serata means “Have a good evening” or “Have a good night” and is used to wish a good time to someone who’s going out for the night.
When your friend is going out for dinner with their significant other, you can tell them Passa una buona serata (“Have a good night!”).
Buon proseguimento – similar to the English “Have a good time” – is another formula used to wish someone a pleasant continuation for whatever situation they’re in the middle of, may it be a trip, a job, or a meal.
Saying “goodbye” in Italian
9. “Goodbye” in Italian – Arrivederci
Arriverderci is another expression to say goodbye in Italian and is used almost only in the spoken language and in formal settings.
It’s very similar to the French Au revoir, and it’s what you’ll hear from the salesclerks in any Italian store before leaving it. It is often accompanied by “Have a good day”: Arrivederci, buona giornata!
10. “See you later” in Italian – A presto
A presto means “See you soon” and can be used both in formal and informal contexts. You can hear Ciao, a presto! or Arrivederci, a presto! It can also be used in the written language, such as when closing an e-mail or a letter.
If you’re sure you’re going to see the person later on the day, you can say A più tardi, a.k.a. “See you later.”
11. “Farewell” in Italian – Addio
Addio is a synonym of Arrivederci and is a form of greeting to a person or thing you are leaving, especially for a long time or permanently.
Unlike the Spanish Adiós, you won’t hear it frequently while in Italy: you may find it in literature or a movie, but rarely in everyday life.
Italian greetings for emails and formal situations
12. “To whom it may concern” in Italian – Alla (cortese) attenzione di
Let us now analyze an opening formula used exclusively in the written language: Alla cortese attenzione di. It literally means “to the (kind) attention of” and is basically used as the English expression “To whom it may concern.”
It is a formal “Hello” in Italian, used in letters or e-mails to show respect to the person we are addressing. You can use it as the opening greeting in a cover letter addressed to a potential employer.
13. “Greetings” and “Regards” – Saluti or Cordiali saluti or Distinti saluti
These are other ways to end a formal letter or e-mail.
Saluti is the less formal of the three and just means “Greetings” or “Regards.”
Cordiali saluti and Distinti saluti can be translated as “Cordial greetings” or “Distinct greetings.” They’re the equivalent of the English “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully” in business communication; in fact, they’re often used in commercial or cover letters.
How to greet an Italian with your body language
It’s widely known that Italians don’t speak just with their mouths, but also with their hands and whole bodies.
Two kisses on the cheeks
When it comes to greeting someone with whom we’re familiar, it’s common to kiss them on both cheeks, usually starting with the right one. Some people even kiss three times, similar to how the French do.
Spanish people also have the habit of kissing people on both cheeks to greet them, but unlike Italian, they start from the left.
So, now imagine an Italian and a Spanish trying to greet each other with the classic two kisses: the former will begin on the right, the latter on the left… let’s say it may end up awkwardly!
Friends usually kiss on one single cheek while saying Ciao or Hey, or they just smile at each other. They might also wave their hand.
Shaking hands is instead for more formal settings, like business meetings. But you can also use it when you are introduced to a person for the first time. In this case, while shaking the person’s hand, you need to say Piacere or Molto piacere, which means “Nice to meet you”. The other person will reply Piacere mio, i.e., “The pleasure is mine”.
Then, you can introduce yourself, saying your name and – if needed – your surname as well: “Piacere, sono Claudia“ (Nice to meet you, I’m Claudia) or “Piacere, mi chiamo Claudia” (Nice to meet you, my name is Claudia).
The elbow bump
The elbow bump is an informal greeting in which two people touch elbows and has become the most adopted way to say hello during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, it has replaced kisses and hands shakings, at least for the moment.
In the end, this is everything you need to know about Italian greetings.
You have now learned what to say to your Italian friends and when it’s proper to kiss or shake hands. Whatever part of Italy you’re going to visit, all these Italian expressions will surely come in handy!