Want to make friends in Russia or other Russian-speaking countries? Then master these nine ways to say hello in Russian to be ready for every situation: from a night out with friends (“What’s up, bro?”, “Heya!” – see привет and здорово) to meeting your girlfriend/boyfriend’s parents (“Hello, Mr. Ivanovich” – see здравствуйте below).
But just knowing the greetings isn’t enough; you also need to know when and with whom they’re appropriate, and to that end I’ve included usage notes and tips.
- Good pronunciation shows respect and really impresses Russians.
- It makes a great first impression. Russians know their language is difficult for English speakers.
- It shows respect for the people, nation, and culture.
The point is that yes, Russian is pretty tough for English speakers, but the payoff is totally worth it; I can’t count how many people have exclaimed, upon hearing me speak, “You barely have an accent!”. So make pronunciation (including paying attention to intonation) a priority!
This is your default, neutral, formal greeting in Russian. It corresponds to English’s “hello”, and can be used at any time of the day.
When do we use it?
- with people older than us
- with people we’ve just met
- when addressing multiple people (even friends)
In English, we have one word for “you”. So to address someone formally, we do so purely by the way we speak and the words we choose – e.g., from “Heya” to “Hello, Mr. Anderson.”
But in Russian, there are two pronouns for you: ты, for people with whom we’re on informal terms, and вы, for – you guessed it – formal relationships, and for addressing multiple people (plural you – think, “you all”). Depending on your relationship, you’ll use one or the other.
What should I do?
As a language learner, use вы (and therefore, Здравствуйте or another formal greeting) with everyone at first. If you’re being too formal, then you can always switch to ты when the other person asks.
This means starting by saying hello formally in Russian, and then as your relationship develops, you start talking on informal terms – на ты. This is the safest option; alternatively, with people your own age, you can start informally. But this carries risks of offending some people, so starting formally is a safe bet.
- You meet a young professional around your own age. You start by saying hello formally with Здравствуйте, and after a few minutes of getting to know each other, they ask to switch to ты (commonly “Давай на ты”). After this, you’ll say hello informally in the future – for example, with “Привет!”, except in formal situations where ты wouldn’t be appropriate (e.g. a formal business meeting).
- You’re meeting a group of friends at a cafe. When you come in, you say hello to everyone with “Здравствуйте!”. Later, a friend shows up and you say “Привет!”. Here we used “Здравствуйте!” because we were addressing a group of friends, and then “Привет” to greet one friend.
- Generally, the younger someone is, the quicker they are to switch to ты. People of the same sex may also switch quicker.
- Every individual is different – some people are more formal (and often you can see it in the way they carry themselves and the language they use), and it may take longer for you to switch to ты, if at all.
- If you need to put some distance between yourself and another person (especially if they’re making unwanted advances), you can switch to вы. This is a clear signal for them to back off.
Доброе утро / Добрый день / Добрый вечер
Use these formal greetings in the same situations as “Здравствуйте”, choosing your greeting depending on the time of day – morning, day, or evening.
- They can be slightly more formal than “Здравствуйте”, and in a business context, may be more appropriate. For example, starting off a business meeting with “Добрый день” (“Good day”).
- Saying hello in Russian with these greetings is especially appropriate the first time you see someone during the day.
- You can use these with friends and family, too; they’re not restricted to formal situations.
There are no hard and fast rules, but these are widely accepted times to use each greeting:
- “Доброе утро” () till noon (12pm).
- “Добрый день” () from noon till 6pm.
- “Добрый вечер” () from 6pm till midnight.
My advice is to learn and practice “Добрый день” first, as it will be the most useful, and then master the rest (using the Advice section on learning words below).
- At shops, supermarkets, restaurants, and most cafes, you’ll say hello formally.
- An exception is if you become friends with people who work there, in which case you can use an informal greeting (Привет, for example).
Below are example dialogues with formal hello in use. Practice the dialogues with yourself or a friend, imagining the context (the shop or cafe, for example). This will build fluency –so that when you need to say hello formally in Russian, it’ll be on the tip of your tongue.
– Добрый день! Пакет нужен?
“Good day. Do you need a bag?”
|– Нет, спасибо.||“No, thanks.”|
- Russians tend to be more effusive than English-speakers; e.g. where we would end “hello” with a period, they’ll often use an exclamation point.
- If you do need a bag, typical options are small, medium, and large – маленький, средний, and большой, respectively. You’d answer “Да, [the size you want], пожалуйста.”
– Здравствуйте. Присаживайтесь, пожалуйста.
“Hello. Please, be seated (lit. sit down).”
|Другой официант (подойдя):
– Здравствуйте. Готовы сделать заказ?
|A different waiter (approaching):
“Hello. Are you ready to order?”
– Добрый день. Да, мне греческий салат и борщ, пожалуйста.
“Good day. Yes, I’ll have (lit. to me) a Greek salad and borsh, please.”
– Хорошо. Попить что-то будете?
“OK/Alright. Anything to drink?”
– Да… давайте капучино, пожалуйста.
“Yes… (lit. give me/let me have) a cappuccino, please.”
– Так, у вас по заказу греческий салат, борщ, и капучино – все верно?
“OK, your order is a Greek salad, borsh, and a cappuccino. Is (lit. everything) that right?”
– Да, все верно.
“Yes, that’s right.”
- This dialogue is more typical of a restaurant where you’re greeted when you come in, and then sit down and make an order; but in many cafes you can sit down and order from a menu, as well.
- The formal greetings used are Здравствуйте and Добрый день (“Good day”).
- Where in English we use a verb to order (“I’ll have a Greek salad”), in Russian you can use the formula Мне ___ (what you’d like), пожалуйста.
With elders and superiors, it’s polite to address them on вы, using their name and patronymic (отчество – from their father’s name). Listen carefully to how they introduce themselves; this is a safe way to address them.
- If your new boss introduces himself as Николай Иванович (“Nikolai Ivanovich”), when you see him again you may say “Здравствуйте, Николай Иванович” (“Hello, Nikolai Ivanovich”) for a polite, formal greeting.
- You have a Russian girlfriend or boyfriend and are meeting their parents. Their mother introduces herself as “Ирина Анатольевна”. So you may greet her formally by saying “Здравствуйте, Ирина Анатольевна!”, to which she may say “Можно Ирина” – “You can call me Irina”. Better to be a bit too formal at first and then be given permission to be less formal, then to be rude.
aka How to learn difficult words and say them well?
“Здравствуйте” is notoriously imposing for English speakers, with one of the consonant clusters that Russian is known for – zdraaa? what?
But with consistent practice, you can go from barely being able to say the word to sounding like a pro – just follow this advice:
- Listen to the word(s) a lot. Repeat after the recording, then record yourself and compare.
- Say it loudly – this helps build confidence and also will help you avoid bad pronunciation (which whispering can promote).
- In addition to “saying it loudly”, stress the, well, stress. Really emphasize the first stressed syllable (“Здра-”/“Zdra-”) by making it longer and louder. This’ll help you memorize where the stress is. You can also jump on the stress, or lift your hand.
- Divide and conquer: break up difficult words into syllables: Здра – (в)ствуй – те.
- Similar to the previous technique, but going sound by sound, from the back: е, те, уйте, ствуйте, and so on. This really helps your tongue get the hang of an unfamiliar word.
And finally, do a little bit every day: listen to something interesting (podcasts, audiobooks, or YouTube videos, for example), practice grammar and learn words in context with Clozemaster. Consistency is a superpower when it comes to language learning, and just like brushing your teeth, the results will show up with time. And most importantly, enjoy yourself!
Use these greetings with friends and people with whom you’re on close terms (friends, family), and when talking to children.
Hi / Hey
Just like Здравствуйте is your go-to formal greeting in Russian, Привет is your all-around informal way to say hello in Russian; use it to greet friends, family, and children.
|– Привет, как дела?||“Hey, what’s up?” (or “how are things?”)|
|– Привет. Хорошо, а у тебя?||“Hey. (Things are) good, how about you?”|
|– Да все отлично. Что у тебя там с работой? Все хорошо?||“Yeah, everything’s great. How are things going with your work, everything good?”|
|– Все хорошо, работы много, устаём.||“Everything’s good, (we have/there’s) lots of work, (we’re) tired.”|
|– Понятно. Слушай, мне пора бежать. Пока!||“Got it. Hey (lit. listen), I need to run, see ya!” (bye)|
|– Давай, пока.||“Sure, bye.”|
- Note that привет is followed by как дела (“How are things?”). When greeting people informally in Russian, we often in the same breath say “Glad to see you!”, “How are things?”, and more. I’ve listed some of these options below.
- Давай usually means “Let’s do ____” (e.g. “Let’s go see a movie” – Давай сходим в кино), but we also use it when saying bye, especially on the phone.
– Привет, … (choose from options below)
|как дела?||how’re things (going)?|
|как жизнь?||how’s life?|
|ты как?||how’re you?|
|рад/а тебя видеть! (women say рада)||(I’m) glad/happy to see you!|
|какая неожиданная/приятная встреча!||what an unexpected/pleasant meeting!|
|сто лет не виделись!||it’s been ages! (lit. we haven’t seen each other for a hundred years!)|
- lengthen the (stressed) second syllable for an enthusiastic “Heeey!” (e.g. your very best friend who you haven’t seen in ages: привееееет!! (accompanied by a big hug/kisses)
- Use name + привет to greet a specific person in a group: Таня, привет! – “Hey Tanya!”
- Say “Hey everyone!” in Russian with Всем привет! (lit. “hey to everyone”)
- Say “Hey Bro!” in Russian with Привет, бро!
Здравствуй is an informal way to say hello in Russian that’s more formal or offical than привет, and may imply a certain amount of distance.
- Use in the same informal situations as Привет when you want to be more formal (but still using ты).
This is the formal greeting Здравствуйте without the ending –те (which is used for formal/plural imperatives – see The imperative mood in Russian at Yes Russian for more details).
Hey (for guys; think “Hey man”, or “Sup, dude?”)
This is a slang greeting for guys. It conveys a sense of comradery and togetherness – you may hear it among young guys, especially in the army. Not everyone likes it, so it depends on your friends.
- Здорово, брат! (lit. “Hey, brother!” – see note above)
Welcome guests in Russian with Добро пожаловать!
- Welcome friends visiting America with Добро пожаловать в Америку! (“Welcome to America!”)
- Or, if you are the one visiting, you may hear Добро пожаловать в Россию! – “Welcome to Russia!”.
Say С приездом! (“Welcome!”).
Compare to other common phrases for congratulations:
- “Happy Birthday!” – С днём рождения!
- (Happy) International Women’s Day – С 8 (восьмым) марта!
The meaning is similar to Добро пожаловать above, but congratulatory.
Once you’ve greeted them like a pro, it’s time to have a conversation. For this you’ll need lots of words. But not just any words: some words are much more frequent than others, and you need to learn these words right away. The question is, how?
This is where Clozemaster is a great resource: it was made with exactly this purpose in mind!
With Clozemaster, you can get a head start on the words you need to carry on a conversation. For example, in the first levels (difficulties) of the “Fluency Fast Track” for Russian you’ll learn:
- 1-100 Most Common Words (1,190 sentences)
- 101-500 (15,525 sentences)
- and so on!
So you have 15,525 sentences to learn the 500 most frequent words. Which means, you’ll see them in many different contexts. Our brain is great at remembering these contexts: therefore, you’ll not only know the words, but also know how and in what situations to use them. Sure, learning words like выпендриваться (“to show off”, “flaunt”, “boast”) will impress people, but your bread and butter, so to speak, will be these most frequent words. So start today!
References and learning materials
- Modern Russian Grammar: A Practical Guide, p. 277
- Beyond ты and вы — formality in Russian at Transparent Language
- Learn Russian – How to Greet People in Russian by RussianPod101.com on YouTube
- Russian for beginners 3. Greetings and goodbyes by Anastasia Semina on YouTube
- ВЫ and ТЫ in Russian: How to switch and where to use by Real Russian Club on YouTube