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Formal Greetings in Italian (vs. Informal)

How Do You Formally Greet in Italian?

In Italian, the type of greeting reflects the social hierarchy among people. A child will use buongiorno-buonasera with an adult, while the adult will use ciao with the children. Unless in friendly terms, two adults will always use formal greetings in Italian. A high school student will use the formal address with the teacher, while the teacher is allowed to use the informal greeting mode.

Examples of Greetings in Italiano (Formal vs. Informal)

  • Buongiorno – Formal greetings used during day time when approaching.
  • Buonasera – Formal greeting used in the late afternoon and evening hours. Both when you approach someone and when you are leaving.
  • Buonanotte – Formal and informal, used when leaving only at the end of the evening.
  • Ciao – Informal, used at all times among relatives and friends or with children, both when meeting and leaving.
  • Arrivederci – Formal and informal, used upon leaving.
  • Addio – Formal and informal. Used upon leaving.

Grammar Rules for Formal Greetings in Italian (vs. Informal)

The type of greeting also determines the GRAMMAR and SYNTAX of speech (PERSON of the VERB that is used):

  • FORMAL GREETINGS in Italian requires the third person singular in the feminine LEI (literally SHE in English) with the corresponding verb form (ex. essere = e’ ).
  • INFORMAL GREETINGS in Italian require using the second person TU (YOU singular in English) with the corresponding form of the verb (ex. essere = sei).

For example:

  • To a woman (Formal): Lei e’ italiana? (Are you Italian?)
  • To a woman (Informal): Tu sei italiana? (Are you Italian?)
  • To a man (Formal): Lei e’ italiano? (Are you Italian?)
  • To a man (Informal): Tu sei italiano? (Are you Italian?)

greetings in italian

Why Would You Have to Use LEI, a Feminine Pronoun, to Address a Male?

Here’s how it came to be. Even in English, the highest form of formality is the third person. Think of a question posed to, say, a Royal Queen. It would sound like this:

  • Is Your Majesty Italian?

In greetings in Italian, the vestiges of that construction are still present: the underlying reference of the formal address is Sua Eccellenza (Your Excellency) as in the example:

  • Sua Eccellenza e’ Italiano? (Is Your Excellency Italian?)

Since Eccellenza is a feminine noun, the corresponding personal pronoun is LEI. Thus the outcome:┬áLei e’ Italiano?

Of course, Italians no longer imply Sua Eccellenza when they use Lei. They use the form they were taught polite and respectful to greet in Italian formally.

Source: Fabio Girelli-Carasi – Oggi e Domani

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