Formal Greetings in Spanish: Words & Phrases

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

When you go to the Spanish-speaking world, you greet people you see for the first time, like a potential employer or business partner. For this reason, it is important to know how to use formal greetings. We will learn formal Spanish greetings in this lesson.

Formal Relationships

Imagine you work at an office and someone you have never seen before walks in. The person acts extremely friendly and calls you 'dude' or 'buddy.' How do you feel about the person? Are they too forward? Is their informality okay?

While informal greetings in Spanish do not imply disrespect or forward behavior, there are people you should address with formal greetings. This is true in cases where the relationship may not be close enough for you to be informal. The basic difference is that, with formal, we don't use (which is 'you' in the informal singular) or vosotros (which is 'you' in the informal plural). Instead, we use usted (oos-TEHD), which is 'you' in the formal singular, and we use ustedes (oos-TEH-dehs), which is 'you' in the formal plural.

But how can we be sure which relationships are formal and require formal greetings? Here are some relaciones de tipo profesional (professional type relationships):

  1. A business partner or person you deal with professionally (unless you also have a friendship with this person or they address you using .)
  2. An older person (unless they specifically ask you to address them using .)
  3. A professional you consult with, such as a lawyer or doctor (unless they specifically ask you to address them using .)
  4. A stranger (This can vary from country to country. For example, in Spain and Mexico, people can be very casual with strangers and use informal greetings. In other countries, it's best to be safe than sorry--just use formal greetings with strangers.)

Formal Greetings

Now that we know what type of relationships require formal greetings, we can look at the actual greetings. We'll begin with statements questions you ask as you greet a single person, followed by group greetings and finally greetings that work for both individuals and group.

Greetings for Individuals

The following table shows us a list of basic questions and statements that you can use to greet a single person:

Greeting/Phrase Pronunciation Translation
¿Cómo se llama usted? KOH-moh seh YAH-mah oos-TEHD What is your name?
¿Cómo está? KOH-moh ehs-TAH How are you?
Encantado/a de conocerle. Ehn-kahn-TAH-doh/dah deh koh-noh-SEHR-leh Glad to meet you.
¿En qué puedo ayudarle? ehn keh poo-EH-doh ah-yoo-DAHR-leh How may I help you?

Translation: Glad to meet you.

Remember to use encantado if you're a male, and use encantada if you're a female.

Greetings for Individuals

This table shows us the same frases for greeting groups of people:

Greeting/Phrase Pronunciation Translation
¿Cómo se llaman ustedes? KOH-moh seh YAH-mahn oos-TEH-dehs What are your names?
¿Cómo están? KOH-moh ehs-TAHN How are you all?
Encantado/a de conocerles. Ehn-kahn-TAH-doh/dah deh koh-noh-SEHR-lehs Glad to meet you all.
¿En qué puedo ayudarles? ehn keh poo-EH-doh ah-yoo-DAHR-lehs How may I help you all?

Translation: Glad to meet you all.

Greetings for Groups or Individuals

Finally, this table shows us the saludos that don't change whether you deal with a single person or group:

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