Summary: A complete overview of common and more unusual things to say when you meet someone, including differences between different expressions.
Salutations like “Hello” are the first thing that most people hear and learn to say when studying English. However, meeting and greeting can also be one of the most confusing things when actually visiting a country, particularly when it comes to informal situations and local dialects. This article lists and explains 35 examples of English greetings, starting with the most common and useful and ending with more difficult examples. Unlike other such lists, I haven’t cheated by including other starting conversations phrases like “How do you do?”, only putting in things which come right at the beginning of the conversation and are replied to with a similar fixed phrase, just like “Hello”. For more general stuff see the articles and lists of language on starting and ending conversations, and the e-book Teaching Social English: Interactive Classroom Activities: https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/social-english/
This is by far the most common greeting in spoken English, especially in friendly/ informal/ casual situations. It goes perfectly in phrases like “Hi John, how’s it going?” and “Hi! Long time no see!” However, it’s become so standard that it can be a bit boring or not casual enough for good friends.
- Good morning
This is the standard formal greeting, as in answering your work phone with “Good morning. ABC Limited. HR department. Alex Case speaking. How can I help you?” Note that although 2 a.m. is two o’clock in the morning, it is strange to say “Good morning” then. It’s also not really evening, so it’s probably best to use expressions without the time like “Hello” if you meet someone long before dawn.
- Good afternoon
From midday, you should switch from “Good morning” to “Good afternoon”. There is no fixed rule on when to switch from “Good afternoon” to “Good evening”, but “Good evening” is more common after around five p.m., after it gets dark or after the evening meal. You need to be slightly careful with when you use “Good afternoon” and your intonation when you say it. Saying “Good afternoon” late in the morning and/ or with a sarcastic tone of voice makes it a comment on how late someone has done something such as arrive at work, as in “Good afternoon, young man. What time do you call this?”
- Good evening
As “Good night” is not used when meeting someone (see below), “Good evening” can actually be used until midnight or later.
This greeting is very common on the telephone (which is actually where it first became a greeting) but not so common face to face, perhaps because “Hello” is a strange middle level of formality between “Hi” and “Good…” You also need to be slightly careful with your voice when you use it, as with different intonation it is occasionally used with its original getting people’s attention meaning (“Hello! Over here!”) and with a sarcastic meaning in “Well, hello!” which is similar to “Well, duh! Obviously!”, and see below for a different meaning in “Well, hello!”
- Morning/ Afternoon/ Evening
“Good morning” can be too formal and so maybe not friendly enough when entering the office in the morning, greeting a regular customer, etc, so the shortened informal version “Morning!” is perhaps even more common. It’s also useful to have variations on “Good morning” so that you don’t greet everyone with the same words and so make it seem like you are doing it too automatically without actually noticing anyone.
- Hello hand gestures
It seems to be fairly universal to raise one hand to casually say “Hello” to someone, but English speakers seem to do this especially casually, sometimes not even moving their hand from their hip when they raise their hand to show their palm. It is also common for English speakers to use this and the eyebrows gesture below to acknowledge someone without interrupting what they are saying. For example, if someone enters a meeting late, most English speakers will acknowledge them with a gesture and eye contact, but not use a spoken greeting. In contrast, in other cultures it might be considered more polite to completely ignore them (to not embarrass them) or to stop for a second to greet them orally.
- Hello eyebrows gesture
Raising your eyebrows to say hello is not as universal as raising one palm, as in some cultures lifting one or both eyebrows only has the meanings of coming on to someone sexually and/ or showing surprise.
- Alright/ Awight (mate)?
This is the first of many things on this list that sounds like “How are you?” However, this and similar expressions in this article are never really replied to and are usually the first thing said, so are actually just greetings, not small talk questions. The usual exchange is “Alright?” “Alright”, with different intonation in the question and response. In contrast, “(Are) you alright?” is a real small talk question, not a greeting, and is answered with something different like “Not bad. Yourself?”
- What’s up/ Wassup/ Wazzup/ Whaddup/ ’sup (man)?
This is the American equivalent of “Alright (mate)?”, but can be more confusing. Complications include its many different casual pronunciations and therefore spellings, that it is a Wh- question but is still just answered with “Wassup” with the intonation of a statement, and that “What’s up?” means “What’s wrong?” in British English. You may also still hear the long “Waaasssuuuppp?” version from the late 90s/ early noughties Budweiser ads, but this has been used in The Simpsons, The Office, etc as proof of how uncool character is, so is absolutely to be avoided.
Another difficulty of “What’s up?” is that it is sometimes a real small talk question that can be answered with “Not much. You?” etc. Generally, if it follows another greeting, as in “Hey, John. What’s up?”, it is a real question that needs answering. Other similar-looking questions like “What’s happening?” are usually or always small talk questions and not actual greetings, as they usually follow a greeting like “Yo man, what’s happening?”
- Morning all
This is used like “Morning!”, but to a group of people. It feels more natural to me in situations like starting a presentation when no answer is needed. “Morning all” to a small group of people can be a joking way of noting that there are fewer people there than expected.
- Hello everyone
Even more than “Morning all”, this is used as a greeting when no response is needed, such as starting a large meeting or sending a group email.
- Hi guys
This is a more casual form of “Hello everyone”. Some people don’t like “guys” to be used with mixed groups, as they say that it is like using “man” to mean “person”. However, I’ve heard some females use it with all female groups, and none of the other options are ideal when “Hello everyone” is too formal.
- Hey (man)
This is similar to “Hi”, but it is even more casual and is disliked by some people, perhaps because it is more common to use “Hey” to (rudely) get someone’s attention.
- Hi everyone
This is a slightly strange mix of levels of formality, with “Hi” very casual and “everyone” not so informal. However, it is another option if “Hi guys” is a no-no. “Hi all” just sounds totally wrong to me, although “Dear all” is used in more formal group emails.
This is kind of a friendlier version of “Hi”, kind of like “Hiiiiiiiiiii!” I find its overuse to be insincere and quite annoying, but it is the most common greeting for some people.
- Hello again!
This is most often used when you meet someone again when you don’t expect to, e.g. when you say goodbye to someone and then bump into them in the elevator ten minutes later. It is often followed by expressions like “Long time no see” (usually with an ironic meaning) and “Sorry, I have just one more question”.
- Gooday/ G’day (mate)
This Australian expression looks like a variation on “Good morning” but is much more casual, being more like “Hi”. You might also hear it in movies as part of “A very good day to you, sir”, but that longer expression is very old fashioned and only used as a joke nowadays.
- Hi there
This is fairly common, but has a range of special meanings and can be rude if not used carefully. If someone else says “Hi” and I reply with “Hi there”, it generally means that I don’t think we’ve met and/ or that I’m surprised that you are greeting me. It can be okay in situations like “Hi” “Oh, hi there. I thought you were off today”, but is often rude. Some people use it in place of “Hi John” when they can’t remember your name, but as it sounds like they don’t remember you at all, it’s much worse than just “Hi”.
- Yo (man)!
This is yet another phrase that is also used to get people’s attention, but is also a greeting. It’s similar to “Hey”, but most people learnt it from copying rappers, and so is often said ironically and/ or with a fake accent.
- Evening all
This is less common than “Morning all”, but is used on TV when a regular enters their local pub, by an old-fashioned “bobby on the beat” checking round the local area, etc. I do hear and occasionally use it in real life, but I wonder if everyone else is also consciously copying it from TV. In contrast, I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard “Afternoon all”.
- How do?/ ’ow do?
This is a northern British version of “Alright?” and “What’s up?” above, and so is also answered with the same words but different intonation.
This is simply a spelling variation on “Hello”. I would say that this is closer to most people’s pronunciation than “Hello”, but I would still write it as the more standard “Hello”.
This is another less common and rather old-fashioned spelling of “Hello”.
- Howdy (partner)
This is still common in certain parts of the US, but for the rest of us it is only familiar from cowboys in Westerns and Toy Story, and so is usually said with a bad fake cowboy accent.
This is a South African and Hawaiian version of “Alright?”/ “What’s up?”, with the usual response being “Howzit” in both places.
- Hello stranger!
This can sound friendly in a similar way to “Hi! Long time no see!”, but is much more likely to be taken as a criticism, as in “Hello stranger! I’ve been trying to contact you!”
- Good morning everybody
This is a possibility for a more formal way to say “Hi guys”, but for me is too similar to things that headteachers say like “Good morning boys and girls”, so I’d probably stick with “Good morning” or “Morning all”.
- Hi guys and gals
This seems like a more inclusive way of saying “Hi guys”, but is even more problematic, as “gals” means “girls” and so seems to be suggesting you are not treating the female attendees as equal adult members of the group. This is therefore only to be used ironically or when you are sure it’s okay.
- Well, hello (boys/ girls)!
This is sometimes used (at least on TV) to show obvious sexual interest in someone who has just entered. It’s quite slimy and should only be used in an ironic way, if at all.
- Hi everybody
For most people “Hi everybody” is automatically followed by “Hello, Dr Nick”, and so it is impossible to use this without thinking of or even doing an impression of this character from the Simpsons.
This sounds to me like something that aliens say when they greet humans, and perhaps for that reason it seems to be most popular among sci-fi geeks.
- Top o’ the morning to ya
This is thought to be a typically Irish greeting, but in fact is very unlikely to be heard in Ireland, instead being used by stereotypically Irish leprechauns in comedy programmes.
- (And) a very good morning/ day/ evening to you (sir/ ma’am).
As mentioned above, this is very old fashioned, and is only used ironically. It’s a bit of a tired old joke to do so. However, as it’s good to use a different greeting with each person that you meet, it is sometimes still used for that purpose when you have run out of other options.
- Good morrow
This is as old fashioned as “A very good…” above, and is even more only used by very geeky people nowadays.
You might have noticed that “Ciao” and “Good night” are not in the list above. This is because they only mean “Goodbye” in English, and so they are in the similar article on farewell greetings on this site.
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