Made some Russian friends or planning to visit the Motherland? Learning Russian greetings and a couple of basic Russian phrases will definitely help you interact with Russian speakers more easily.
Heads up, the words in the brackets aren’t stroke-induced distress signals. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Cyrillic, we’ve added the pronunciation and capitalized the letters that you should accent. At the end of the article, we’ve added a table as a map for the declension of personal pronouns, should you like to understand why, for example, “you” in certain greetings appears in different forms.
Давай зайдем (let’s get into it, davAi zaidyIOm) then!
Russian greetings: the hellos
1. “Hello” in Russian – Здравствуйте or Здравствуй (zdrAvstvuyte-zdrAvstvuy)
Здравствуйте is the formal hello in Russian if you want to greet a stranger or someone that you should address with respect, like a teacher or an elder.
Actually, the Russian word for “health” is “здоровье” (zdorOv’ye), so this Russian greeting can be translated into “I wish you good health”. You could trace its origin to the plague epidemics (with cases still popping up from time to time), the agrarian economy, and the unforgiving weather that paints the history of Russia’s landscape, underlining how disease constituted the worst threat to the livelihood of Russians.
2. “Hi” in Russian – Привет (privyEt)
Привет is the king of all Russian greetings! This is the classic informal Russian “hello” between friends and family. It is perhaps the most common way to say hi in Russian to people that you are comfortable with and know well.
If you want to sound a little more elegant, you could use the verb πриветствую (privEtsvuyiu), literally meaning “I greet you”.
Russian greetings for each hour of the day
3. “Good morning” in Russian – Доброе утро (dObroye Utro)
Доброе утро is the typical way to say good morning in Russian, either in a formal or informal setting. It should be used until 12pm. С добрым утром (s dObrim Utram) is an alternate option, often used, but not limited to, when addressing larger crowds.
If you are feeling particularly affectionate, you can also use С утречком (s Utrechkom), with утречко being the diminutive of утро (morning), meaning “little morning”. In case you are facing a mental blackout, you could also keep this Russian greeting in mind if you want to remember more easily how to conjugate the simplest form of male nouns and adjectives in the instrumental case.
4. “Good afternoon” in Russian – Добрый день (dObryy dEn’)
As in English, “good afternoon” or Добрый день in Russian settles between 12pm and 6pm, or generally when there is still daylight. (Actually, the word “день” means “day”).
Grammar tip: through the ending of the adjective, which is masculine (“Добрый“,) you can remember that “day” in Russian is a masculine noun, considering that it’s often tricky to specify the gender of the words ending with the soft sign “ь”. This way, when you want to use different cases, you can choose the correct ending. For example, it would be easy to keep in mind that you use the masculine form for nouns ending in “ь” when you want to say “in the middle of the day” (=”в середине дня“, v sereDIne dnyA – genitive case) or “enjoy the day” (=”наслаждайся днём“, naslazhdAysya dniOm – instrumental case).
5. “Good evening” in Russian – Добрый вечер (dObriy vYEcher)
Добрый вечер or “good evening” in Russian can be used after 6pm or after sunset. For instance, it is quite often used in winter after 4pm when the sun sets in northern cities like Saint Petersburg.
6. “Good night” in Russian – Cпокойной ночи (spokOynoy nOchi)
Cпокойной ночи would be directly translated as “have a good night”.
Again you might be scratching your head, thinking: eeny, meeny, miny, moe, what’s this case, I don’t know.
A verb that often implicitly accompanies many salutations is “желать” (zelAt), meaning “to wish/hope”. This verb, turns out, most of the time goes hand in hand with the genitive case. Having cracked the code, you have learned that “cпокойной ночи” is the genitive form of “спокойная ночь”. Hooray!
Russian greetings for introductions and pleasantries
7. “Thank you” in Russian – Спасибо (spaSIba)
OK, even if you aren’t learning Russian, “cпасибо” is definitely in your sphere of consciousness of Russian greetings. Спасибо is suitable for both verbal formal and informal occasions. The Russian equivalent phrase of “thank you very much” would be спасибо большое (spasIba bol’shOye). Should you want to stress your gratefulness, you can sprinkle it with a cпасибо огромное (= “huge thank you”, spasIba ogrOmnoye).
If you want to be more formal, especially in writing, using an expression like “я благодарю вас” (ya blagodarIU vash), again meaning thank you or “я ценю вашу помощь” (ya tsenYU vAshu pOmosh’), translated as “I appreciate your help”, is a little more cordial than a plain spasiba.
Fun fact about “cпасибо”, it is actually derived from the phrase “спаси́ бог” (spasI bog), or “God save you” in English. As a Greek Orthodox Christian, falling within the family of fellow Eastern Orthodox Russians, I can attest to the prominence of religion in every-day life, justifying how expressing gratitude has been interlocked with a benediction.
8. “You’re welcome” in Russian – Πожалуйста (pozhAluysta)
Пожалуйста is definitely a handy expression, meaning not only “you’re welcome” but also “please”. So, you might be asking for a cup of tea at the coffee shop by saying чашку чая, пожалуйста. Or you might be offering your seat in the metro and responding to the thankful passenger with a formal “пожалуйста”.
Other common Russian phrases to say you’re welcome would include “не за что” and “пустяки”, equivalents to “don’t mention it”, which is suitable for most social settings.
9. “My name is…” in Russian – Меня зовут… (menYA zavUt)
Меня зовут… is how you should set about when you introduce yourself or when asked как тебя зовут? (=what’s your name, kak tebyIA zavUt). The literal meaning of the phrase is “they call me..”, with the verb “звaть” conjugated in the third plural person “they”.
Alternatively, you could simply say “Я – (insert name)”, meaning “I’m (insert name). Interesting grammar insight on this point: the verb “to be” does not exist in the present tense in Russian. So, to present your name, you just use the personal pronoun “I”. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Is this one of the roots of the existential crisis rampant in Russian literature? Might as well be.
10. “How are you?” – Kак дела? (Kak delA)
You have two paths here, depending on the level of formality you strive for. Как у вас дела (kak u vash dEla) is formal since it uses the genitive form of the second-person plural “вы”. In turn, как у тебя дела (kak u tebyA dEla) is used for informal occasions, since you opt for the genitive form of the second-person singular “ты”. In the more relaxed, informal setting, you can skip pronouns altogether and simply use как дела?
If you are asked how you are, you can respond by saying “хорошо” (=well, harashO), “плохо” (=not well, plOha), “отлично” (=great, atLIchna) or “как обычно” (=as usual, kak aBIchna).
11. “Have a good day!” – Tебе/Bам хорошего дня! (tebe/vam harOsheva dnYA)
We meet again the invisible influence of the verb “желать” in Russian greetings, with “хороший день” taking its genitive form. As with the examples mentioned before, you can use Bам хорошего дня on formal occasions or when you are facing a crowd of people. Otherwise, you can go for Tебе хорошего дня, when you are with a friend, peer, relative, or a close acquaintance.
12. “Bye” in Russian – До свидания (Do SvidAniyia)
До свидания is the safest Russian farewell, suitable for most settings. While it certainly is your go-to for formal occasions, it might be a little too heavy if you use it for very close friends, considering it has the poetic luster of the meaning “until we meet again”
In that case, parting phrases commonly used between friends, family and close acquaintances would be пока (pokA) or давай (davAi).
You can also use phrases like “до встречи” (do vtrEchi), meaning “until the meeting”, or, if you want to refer to a specific day, you can use the preposition “до” (do) followed by the name of the day in its genitive form, e.g. “до понедельника” (until Monday, do panedElnika).
Russian greetings for special occasions and holidays
13. “Happy birthday” in Russian – C днём рождения (S dnyIOm RazdEniya)
This is pretty straightforward with the good old instrumental case bringing to us с днём рождения.
Now, if you aren’t up-to-date with Russian traditions on birthdays, let’s mention a couple of quirky customs. First, generally, avoid wishing happy birthday or buying gifts to the именинник (=birthday boy, imeNInik) or именинница (=birthday girl, imeNInika) too early. Bad luck you see. For the same reason, it’s good to also avoid gifting yellow flowers or even-numbered bouquets before the actual birthday. And, beware: if it’s you’re birthday you might be blessed with a little ear-pulling.
14. “Happy Easter” in Russian – C Пасхой/Христос Воскрес! (s PAsphai/hristOS voskREs)
We will be taking a deep dive into Eastern Orthodox Easter for this one, so hung in there. Easter is a big thing for us Orthodox Christians. Dare I say even more important than Christmas. Maybe it’s that kind of only-pain-and-suffering-will-grant-eternal-salvation feeling that is deeply embedded in our national identities. Who knows…
Anyways, two good old Russian greetings for Easter are C Пасхой! (S PAshai) or Счастливой Пасхи! (SchastLIvai PAshi) to wish somebody a happy Easter. However, the most common Easter Russian greeting you will come across would be Христос воскрес (HristOS VoskREs), meaning “Christ has risen”. It is always echoed throughout the church after midnight of Holy Saturday, when we commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus. In response, it is customary to say Bоистину воскрес (VAIstinu VaskrEs), meaning “truly He has risen”.
Actually, the word “воскрес (= risen/resurrected) is associated with the word “Воскресенье”, which is “Sunday” in Russian. You know, devoting the day to God and all. Another religious insight: we use the word “Пасхa” (Pasha) for “Easter” from the Hebraic “Pesach”, which means “Passover”, either referring to God “passing over” the Israelites when the ten plagues ravaged Egypt or, in Orthodox Christianity, the passage from death to life through Christ’s Resurrection.
Still with me? Great! Let’s move on to the fun bits of Russian Easter: “кулич” (kuLIch) and “пасхалные яйца” (pasHAlnie yiaiCHA)! “Kулич” refers to the traditional sweet Russian Easter cake, containing dried fruit and sprinkled with icing deliciousness, completely irresistible if you are on the Easter lent called “Великий Пост”. “Πасхалные яйца” are our beloved Easter eggs. For Orthodox Christians, Easter eggs involve the custom of boiling eggs, painting them red, and embarking on “egg wars”. After colliding each other’s decorated masterpieces, the person with the most resilient egg is proclaimed the winner.
15. “Merry Christmas” in Russian – C Pождеством (s rOzdestvam)
Things are simple with Russian Christmas greetings. C рождеством is pretty much all you need to wish someone a happy Christmas in Russian-speaking countries. This wish is related, for obvious reasons, to the world “рождение”, meaning “birth”.
During the Soviet Union, Christmas was gradually forsaken as a religious element that did not suit the atheist dogma of Soviet ideology. Despite this, Christmas rose from its pine tree ashes after 1991. Due to this reason, not many Russians will visit church service on Christmas day, nor indulge in any extravagant celebrations.
Meeting with relatives, however, sharing fortune-telling stories and classic fables on Christmas Eve as well as preparing dishes like “крендель” (=Christmas sweet bread, krendel) and “кулебяка” (=something like a shepherd’s pie, kulebyaka), alongside with Olivier’s salat and pirozhki, are common practices of a Russian Christmas.
16. “Happy New Year” in Russian – С Новым годом (s NOvim GOdam)
To wish someone a happy new year, say С Новым годом.
Due to the predominance of Soviet secularism and the adherence to the Julian calendar for Christmas, Russians channel all the holiday hype towards the earlier New Year’s celebrations. New Year’s Eve would be the day to visit concerts and festivals and watch the fireworks displays from the Red Square when the clock strikes 12.
New Year’s Eve is also the merriest time for children, when the very Russian counterpart of Santa Claus, Дед Мороз (Ded MarOz) and his grand-daughter Снегурочка (Snegurochka) arrive at night bearing gifts. Ded Maroz places the gifts under the ёлка (yolka), the Christmas tree which is actually set up weeks before for New Year’s.
17. “Cheers” in Russian – Будем здоровы (bUdem zdarOvi)
Sorry to disappoint anyone who has used the phrase “на здоровье!” (na zdarOvyie) from an American spy film, there are indeed many ways to say “cheers” in Russian, but that does not appear to be one of them.
It seems that making toasts, accompanied by hopeful or enigmatic little stories, is the established version of Russian “cheers”. Standard Russian toasts would include будем здоровы (=to us being healthy, bUdem zdarOvi), “за тебя” (=to you, za tebyia) or за вас (za vas), or anything you could normally make a toast on in English. For example, “за успех” (=to success, za uspEh) or “за счастье” (=to happiness, za schAstyie).
No Russian wedding would be complete without someone also shouting “горько!” (gOrka). This toast, meaning “bitter”, is exclaimed to encourage the bride and groom to kiss, so as to “sweeten” the food and the atmosphere.
18. “I wish you health and happiness” in Russian – Желаю вам/тебе здоровья и счастья (zelAyiu vam/tebE zdarOvia i schAstia)
Whether it’s Christmas, Easter or someone’s birthday, using the phrase Желаю вам здоровья и счастья, with “вам” appropriate for formal settings and “тебе” for informal occasions, is always a thoughtful and warm gesture towards a friend or colleague.
Also, another amusing popular expression amongst friends is “ни пуха ни пера!” (ni pUha ni perA), literally meaning “nor fluff, nor feather”. This expression would be equivalent to the French “bonne merde” or the English “break a leg”, as it was based on the superstition that wishing hunters bad luck in catching any animals, would bring opposite results.
Other essential Russian greetings and phrases
I apologize for – Прошу прощения за (+noun)/что (+verb) e.g. Прошу прощения за задержку (prashU prashEniyia za zadErzku) – I apologize for the delay
Sorry/Excuse me – Простите/Извините e.g. Простите/Извините, можно меню, пожалуйста? (prasTIte/IzviNIte, mOzna mEhiyu, pazAluista?) – Excuse me, may I have the menu, please?
I don’t speak Russian – Я не говорю по-русски e.g. Извините, я не говорю по-русски (izviNIte, yia ne gavariU pa rUski) – Excuse me, I don’t speak Russian
How much does it cost? – Сколько стоит? e.g. Извините, сколько это/этa/этот (платье, рубашка, галстук) стоит? (IzviNIte, skOlka eta/eta/etat platye/rubAska/galsTUk sTOit?) – How much does this (dress, shirt, tie) cost?
Can I pay by card? – Можно заплатить кредитной карточкой? (mOzna zaplAtit kreDItnai kArtachkai?)
Can I pay with cash? – Можно заплатить наличными? (mOzna zaplAtit naLIchnimi?)
Left/Right/Straight – лево/право/прямо e.g. Πоверните налево / направо (pavernNIte naLEva/naprAva) – Turn left/right. Идите прямо вперед (iDIte pryiAma vperiOd) – Go straight ahead
Where is the restroom? – Где туалет? (gde tualEt)
Where is the metro/ bus/ tram? – Где метро / автобус / трамвай? (gde metrO/ avtObus tramvAi?)
One/two/three ticket(s), please – Один/два/три билет(a), пожалуйста (aDIn/dva/tri biliet(a), pazAluista)
Here’s the personal pronoun table we promised: