The first thing that baffles everyone who’s ever picked up a basic list of Russian words, is how to say “hello” in Russian…
Здравствуйте – zdravstvuyte
How can something so basic, have four consonants following each other?
It’s like the language version of military training. It’s meant to test your willpower, reserve, endurance, and only allow those who really want to finish the program. And it’s just the start!
The program here, of course, means learning how to speak Russian.
If you can make peace with the fact that the answer to a simple question, ‘how do you say “hello” in Russian?’, isn’t as easy as you’d expect it to be, you’ve passed the first trial.
But for those who aren’t ready yet, it’s a good idea to look into 15 alternative Russian greetings.
Curious? Let’s find out what these basic Russian phrases are!
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a greeting as a salutation at meeting. Just like in English, you can say the following Russian greetings whenever you meet a Russian person.
Be aware: the Russian language has a high level of politeness. So some greetings are better used for your close friends, where others are only good in specific (formal) situations.
Don’t worry though. After every greeting I’ll quickly discuss what it means (literal meaning & English equivalent) and in which situations you can use it.
1. “Hi” in Russian – Привет (privyet)
After trying to pronounce the tongue twister здравствуйте, you’d do better and switch to this simple way of saying “hi” in Russian. It’s easy to say and chances are you’ll get it right on your first or second try.
Even though it’s officially considered an informal way of saying hello, you can get away with in many cases. For example, saying “hi” to friends, family, or even casual acquaintances. If you’re unsure though, I recommend you only say it to those that you’d otherwise address with the informal “you” (ты).
*The great thing about being a foreigner in Russia, is that you have much more leeway with getting the formality (or anything, really) right. As people know it’s not your native language, they’re quick to forgive little mistakes. *
When I’m in Russia, I basically make привет my default greeting. Unless I’m in the following situations:
- Officials such as police, customs officers or security guards
- Elderly people
- Anyone who’s doing their job (waiters, store clerks, taxi drivers, etc.)
- Or if I’m in a bigger group and am unsure what the formality level is
In any of those cases, you’re better of doing some mouth gymnastics and saying….
2. “Hello” in Russian – Здравствуйте (zdravstvuyte)
Look, the first thing that you absolutely must know before even trying to pronounce this greeting is that *virtually every Russian person skips the first ‘в’ and softens the ‘c’ to more of a ‘z’ sound. *So instead of four consonants, you actually only have to pronounce three.
This makes it a lot easier (still not easy though!).
Try saying it: Zdraztvuytye
How did that go? Better, right? Good. Don’t worry about perfect pronunciation at this point. Just know that it will get better over time, as you improve your ability to say multiple consonants right after each other.
As far as the use is concerned, it’s a great greeting to use in every situation where you’d otherwise use the formal “you” (Вы) in Russian.
Здравствуйте is the formal command of the verb здравствовать – which means “to live long”. So when you say здравствуйте, you command them to live well and long. Over time the meaning has switched to only hello, but it’s nice to know where it comes from as few foreigners will know this.
Still find it hard to pronounce? Then you’ll love the next greeting.
3. An Informal “Hello” in Russian – Здрасте (Zdraste)
Sometimes I get the feeling that even Russians find здравствуйте a little over the top and too long for a regular greeting.
That’s why you’ll often hear the shortened version of it: Здрасте.
If you’d repeat Здравствуйте 20 times as fast as you can, you quickly notice that you drop the вы in the middle of it. And you’re left with an even shorter (and way easier on the tongue) way of saying “hello”.
As far as the usage and formality is concerned, I’d say it’s somewhere in between здравствуйте and привет. You often hear this greeting when someone says “hi” to a small group of people (five or so), and still wants to say hello to each individual.
4. A More Affectionate “Hi” in Russian – Приветик (privyetik)
If you’ve been learning Russian for a while, you’ll know that you can ‘cutify’ almost every word by adding a suffix. One of them is “ик”, and it works well to add to привет. You can hear kids saying this, or sometimes an adult to kids.
I don’t really recommend foreigners to use this mini version of привет, since it’s tough to get its usage right. Saying it to adults can get you some weird looks. So if you’re going the informal route, just stick to the tried and true привет.
5. A Russified “Hello” – Алло / Алё / Элло (Allo / Alyo / Ello)
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I’m sure you’ve heard Russians speak English before, right? You simply take the English “hello” and say it with a Russian accent.
If you try to say this as a foreigner, 80% chance it will look as if you’re making fun of the Russian accent.
So don’t say this.
6. “Hey” in Russian – Здорого (Zdorovo)
This is another trap in the land of Russian greetings (don’t worry, we’ll get to more safe words starting in a moment). When pronouncing this informal greeting, be sure to put the stress on the second o. When the stress is on the first o, it means “nice” or “well done”. So keep this in mind to avoid weird situations, where someone tells you “nice, good job”, and you respond by saying “hi”.
7. “Good Morning” in Russian – Доброе утро (dobroye utro)
We’re back in safe territory. “Good morning” in Russian literally means “kind morning”. The Russian word for morning (утро), is neuter gender, so the adjective should also be in the neuter form.
It’s easy to recognize this, as every word that ends in “е” or “о” is neuter. And the adjective takes these two letters to form the ending. If you want to learn more about this, you can check out this guide to Russian noun genders. As “good day” and “good evening” also follow this adjective plus noun combination.
As you’d expect, you can say доброе утро, every time when it’s morning, or when you just woke up.
- Russian culture tip: if you’re a guy, then it’s custom to shake hands in the morning with other guys. So remember this if you’re staying over at someone's place.
- Russian culture tip 2: never ever shake hands over a doorway. This is considered a bad omen in Russia.
8. “Good Day” in Russian – Добрый день (dobriy den)
Again, this literally means “kind day”. You can say this approximately from 12pm until 6pm. The word for day (день) is masculine, so the adjective should follow suit.
9. “Good evening” in Russian – Добрый вечер (dobriy vecher)
Nothing new here. It literally means “kind evening”. You can use it after 6pm.
10. “Goodnight” in Russian – Доброй ночи (dobroy nochi)
I was doubting whether to include this here, as it’s not really a Russian greeting. Just like in English, “goodnight” in Russian is more often used to wish someone a good night of sleep. Even if you’d meet someone late at night, you’re better off saying добрый вечер (“good evening”).
Also notice that Доброй ночи, is not in the nominative case, as with the previous three greetings. This is because often when you’re wishing something to someone, you put the thing you wish in the genitive case.
11. “Welcome” in Russian – Добро пожаловать (dobro pozhalovat’)
If you’ve ever been to Russia, you’ve seen this every time you enter a city, region or village. It’s a formal way of saying “welcome”, but you can use it in any informal situation as well. Literally, it means something along the lines of “kind staying”. So you wish someone a kind stay, you can say these words.
12. “Welcome” (After a Long Journey)- С приездом (S priyezdom)
You probably don’t need to say this, but do expect to hear it said to you. Even though it’s best translated as “welcome”, it’s literally a form of congratulations and means “[congratulations] with arrival”. Приезд is used here in the instrumental case, as the preposition is “с” (with), which always triggers this case.
13. “Welcome” (After a Flight) – С прилётом (S prilyotom)
This expression is the same as “С приездом”, but it’s used if you arrive by plane, as прилёт means flight arrival.
14. Military “Hello” in Russian – Здравия желаю (Zdraviya zhelayu)
This is the military way of saying “hello” in Russian. You won’t need to say this as a foreigner, but it’s good to know. If you know someone really well, you could even say it as a joke to them.
15. “Hello” (After a Long Absence) – Сколько лет, сколько зим! (Skol’ko let, skol’ko zim!)
This greeting is likely the last one that a Russian person would expect from a foreigner. If you haven’t seen someone for a very long time, you can say “how many summers, how many winters”, to signify how many years it has since you’ve last seen each other.
As you can probably tell, this is an informal greeting!
What’s Your Favourite Russian Greeting?
So how about you? Have you traveled to Russia before and noticed some specific greetings not on this list?