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Formal and Informal Greetings in Spanish

Updated on October 25, 2017
The greetings exchanged between friends and business partners can differ greatly.
The greetings exchanged between friends and business partners can differ greatly. | Source
A conjugation chart for the verb estar. Notice how the ending changes depending on who the subject is.
A conjugation chart for the verb estar. Notice how the ending changes depending on who the subject is.

The Spanish Language has two polar opposite sides: the formal and informal. This shows up in everything from the two different words for addressing someone ( or usted) to the everyday greetings that everyday people use.

A student of the Spanish language first needs to realize that there are two different Spanish words for "you," ( and usted). Since verbs are conjugated based on the pronoun that correlates with it, this will affect greetings. Such as when you ask "How are you?" In the formal tense of "usted" the translation would be "¿Cómo esta usted?" The informal however would be "¿Cómo estas?" with an implied "."

The formal is used in situations in which there is an obvious age difference, in school situations between faculty and students, and in most professional situations. Whereas, the informal phrases are used between close family and friends or occasionally to be purposeful subordinate.

Spanish Formal and Informal Greetings Cheat Sheet

English Phrase
Spanish Formal
Spanish Informal
How are you?
¿Cómo esta usted?
¿Cómo estas (tú)? / ¿Qué tal?
Good morning.
Buenos días
Buen dia (colloquial)
Good afternoon.
Buenas tardes
Buenas (can be used all day)
Good night.
Buenas noches
What's up?
¿Qué hay? / ¿Qué pasa? / ¿Qué hubo?/ ¿Qué onda? (colloquial)
Nice to meet you.
Mucho gusto. (Less formal than Encantado, however not quite informal)

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Busuu is a language learning website that offers course, flashcards, and a supportive community to learn and practice with. It's free to use, but has the option to upgrade to a paid membership to unlock more options. They offer self paced courses in the following languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese.


A website similar to Busuu, where people can learn languages for free. It also has a pay option. It's been recently "updated," so I'm not extremely familiar with it.


A website that is completely free website. It does use what appears to be an "energy" system like Facebook games or free game apps.


Similar to Duolingo.

Formal Greetings in Spanish

Most greetings begin with simply acknowledging the other person, and what easier way to that than to simply say "Hello." The word for hello in Spanish is simply "Hola."

In formal situations it is best to remember that when someone asks how you are, that they are generally asking as a social curtesy, and most likely do not want actually insight into your life. A vague "bien" will almost always suffice.

It is customary to shake hands with everyone in the group upon meeting them, this applies to men, women, and children. A purposeful (or accidental) situation in which someone is ignored and they are not addressed or their hand is not shook is an extreme insult. To seem even more caring shake with two hands. One hand shaking and the other cupping the grasped hands from the outside. In Spanish speaking countries there also tend to be less space between people shaking hands.

Whereas informal greetings tend to have coloquial influence, formal greetings are also about the same regardless of the region you are in.

¿Cómo esta usted?- How are you? (formal)
Buenos días. -Good morning. (Literally translated as "Good Day") This usually covers from 6 am to noon.
Buenas tardes. -Good Afternoon. This is usually acceptable from about noon until 7.
Buenas noches. -Good night. This is used from 7 until usually about 2 in the morning.

Children use formal language when greeting adults.
Children use formal language when greeting adults. | Source

Informal Greetings in Spanish

When in doubt always use the formal greeting, as the conversation flows, either the person will tell you to use the more informal conjugations or you can gage the situation better.

It's also important to remember that every region has there own greetings that may be completely unique to that region. Generally, you will be safe will a vague response of "bien" or "nada" if you are not certain of what the other person asked. With greetings and general introductions it's pretty easy to "fake it until you make it."

¿Cómo estas (tú)?-How are you? (informal)
¿Qué hay? -What's up? or What's new? (Literally translates to "what is there?" but it comes from the phrase "¿qué hay de nuevo?" which means What is new?"
¿Qué pasa? -How're things? (Literally translates to "What has passed?")
¿Qué tal? -How are you?
¿Qué hubo?/ ¿Qué onda? -Colloquial phrase from Mexico that essentially mean "What's up?"

© 2012 Haley


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    • Sanjana Shukla profile image

      Sanjana Shukla 2 weeks ago from Mumbai, India

      I tried Busuu and Duolingo but didn't like either of them. They seem very robotic to me.

    • profile image

      darth 6 months ago

      it is to show that it is a question

    • profile image

      Tardy Lardy Dardy 2 years ago

      pretty goody

    • donmanual profile image

      donmanual 5 years ago from Playa del Carmen, Mexico

      ¿Qué onda? :)

      Up from me! :)

    • Dr Funom Makama profile image

      Dr Funom Makama 5 years ago from Europe

      Great share.

    • hrymel profile image

      Haley 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      If you're on a windows computer hold down the al key and type 0191. On a mac hold down shift+option+? . Or if you don't want to do any of that just copy and paste one upside down "?" from somewhere else, and reuse it. That's what I do if I keep forgetting the code for a specific symbol.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks for the simple lesson.

      How did you get the upside down Spanish question mark.