Ready Russian Logo < How to Greet Someone in Russian

Russian greetings invariably trip up beginners. At first they learn a Russian greeting which is supposedly a direct replacement for an English expression. But in time they notice that though it works in some situations, in other situations people do not seem to understand it properly. The problem is that the beginner does not know the literal meaning of the expression. Keep reading to learn how to use Russian greetings in a way which will make sense to Russians.

Здравствуй/Здравствуйте

Even though it is difficult to pronounce, this is the greeting you should learn first.

A teacher greets a male child: "Здравствуй!" The boy answers: "Здравствуйте!" A teacher greets a boy and a girl: "Здравствуйте!" The answer: "Здравствуйте!"

To use it properly, you need to know:

Доброе утро/Добрый день/Добрый вечер

These expressions mean “Good morning!”, “Good day!”, and “Good evening!” respectively. There is no “Good afternoon!”

Здравствуй!” or “Здравствуйте!” is used at the first meeting in a given day and these expressions are used when the same person is seen again later in the day.

By using these expressions you are expressing a wish that the person will have a good morning, day, or evening. They are not comments on how the day is turning out.

Привет!

Two children greet one another: "Привет!"

This an informal substitute for “Здравствуй!” which is used between close friends.

Алло

Two women speaking on the phone each say "Hello!"

In Russian “Hello” is not a greeting. It is a word used to get the other party’s attention at the start of a telephone conversation or when the line seems to have gone dead. At the beginning of the conversation it should be followed by one of the actual greetings described above.

Как твои дела?/Как ваши дела?

Two women are having tea. One asks, "Как твои дела?"

This expression literally means “How are your affairs?”, but is less formal, more like “How are you?” While in English such expressions are used as greetings when meeting strangers, in Russian they are genuine inquiries used between friends.

Как Вы поживаете?

Some language courses, particularly those originally created in the 1950's, feature dialogues which go something like this:

Господин Иванов: Как Вы поживаете? Mr. Ivanoff: How do you do?
Господин Смит: Хорошо. А Вы? Mr. Smith: Well. What about you?

Note the phrase “Как Вы поживаете?” which means “How do you do?” When Russians talk like this they are imitating foreign culture. The following chart plots the use of this phrase in Russian literature:

Graph shows use of the expression "как вы поживаете" from 1800
	to 2000. Except for a tiny blip in the 1860's there is no use
	before 1917 when it starts to rise sharply. Use peaks in the
	1940's and 1950's but is down by half by 1960.
Figure 1: Google Ngram plot of “как вы повиваете”

Note that little blip at 1869. This is Russians using the phrase when describing letters they had written in French. Then there is a big rise starting at World War I. But the big rise is only relative. Here is another chart comparing this phrase and “Как твои/ваши дела?” (see above) with the good honest Russian greeting “Здравствуйте!”:

Two wavy lines in the middle of the graph show steady use of
	"здравствуй" and "здравствуйте", while the lines representing "как
	твои дела", "как ваши дела", "как ты поживаешь", and "как вы поживаете"
	crawl along the bottom of the graph. >
Figure 1: Google Ngram plot of “зравствуй(те)” against phrases meaning "how do you do"

In comparison to “Здравствуйте!” these “How do you do?” expressions barely register.

До свидания

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a greeting. Instead it means “Until we meet again”. It is the standard way of saying goodbye.

Пока

This is an informal alternative to “До свидание!”. It literally means “Until our meeting.” The closest English equivalent is “So long!”