Italian Survival Phrases: Greetings

Learn how to greet people in Italy during your travels

Friends meeting at a cafe
Leonardo Patrizi / Getty Images

So you have a trip coming up to Italy, and you’re ready to learn some of the language.

While knowing how to ask for directions, how to order food, and how to count are all important in order to get by, you’ll also need to know basic greetings.

Here are 11 phrases to help you be polite while greeting locals on your trip.

Phrases

1.) Salve! - Hello!

“Salve” is a very informal way to say “hello” to people that you pass by in Italy -- both on the street and in situations like restaurants or shopping. You can use it both for “hello” and “goodbye.”

2.) Ciao! - Hello!/Goodbye!

“Ciao” is a very common greeting in Italy between friends, family, and acquaintances.

You may also hear:

  • Ciao a tutti! - Hi everyone!
  • Ciao ragazzi! - Hi guys!

When a conversation has ended, you may hear a long string of “ciao’s”, like “ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao.” 

3.) Buongiorno! - Good morning!/Good afternoon!

Another polite expression to know is “buongiorno,” and it can be used both for the morning and the early afternoon. It’s a simple way to greet a shopkeeper or a friend. When you want to say bye, you can say “buongiorno” again or “buona giornata! - have a good day!”

4.) Buonasera! - Good evening!

“Buonasera” (also spelled “buona sera”) is the perfect way to greet someone while you talk a walk (fare una passeggiata) around the city. Depending on where you are, people typically start using “buonasera” after 1 PM. When you want to say bye, you can say “buonasera” again or “buona serata! - have a good evening!”.

Fun Fact: If you’re wondering why “buon pomeriggio - good afternoon” isn’t mentioned here as a greeting, it’s because it isn’t commonly used in Italy. You'll hear it in some places, like Bologna, but “buongiorno” is more popular.

5.) Buonanotte! - Good night!

“Buonanotte” is both a formal and informal greeting to wish somebody a good night and sweet dreams. It’s very romantic and is used by parents to children and by lovers.

Fun Fact: It can also be used to state the end of a situation, like “let’s stop thinking about it!/I don’t want to think about this ever again.”

e.g. Facciamo così e buonanotte! - Let’s do it this way and stop thinking about it!

6.) Come sta? - How are you?

“Come sta?” is the polite form that you can use to ask how someone is. In response, you might hear:

  • Sto bene! - I’m well.
  • Bene, grazie, e lei? - Good, thanks, and you?
  • Non c’è male. - Not bad.
  • Così così.- So-so.

The informal form for this question would be, “Come stai?”

7.) Come va? - How's it going?

You can use “come va?” as another less formal way to ask how someone is. In response, you may hear:

  • Va benissimo, grazie. - It’s going really well, thanks.
  • Molto bene, grazie! - Very well, thanks!
  • Fantasticamente! - Fantastically!
  • Tutto a posto! - Everything is going well! (Literally: Everything is in place.)

“Come va?” is also an informal greeting and should be used between people that you’re familiar with.

8.) Prego! - Welcome!

While “prego” is often used to mean “you’re welcome,” it can also be used to welcome a guest. For example, let’s say you walk into a restaurant in Rome, and after you tell the host that you have two people, he might gesture toward a table and say “prego”. This can be roughly translated as “take a seat” or “go right ahead.”

9.) Mi chiamo… - My name is…

When you are meeting someone new, like the barista you see every day once you leave your B&B, you can ask him or her, “Come si chiama? - What’s your name?”. This is the polite form. After, you can offer your name by saying, “Mi chiamo…”

10.) Piacere! - Nice to meet you!

After you’ve exchanged names, a simple phrase to say next is “piacere,” which means “nice to meet you”. You may hear back “piacere mio - the pleasure is mine.”

11.) Pronto? - Hello?

While you won’t be expected to answer phones speaking all Italian, the common way to answer phones in Italy is “pronto?”. Listen up for it while you’re on the trains, metro, and busses while navigating Italy.