First impressions matter. That’s why it’s good to know several different ways of saying ‘hello’ in Russian.
If you’re a non-native Russian speaker (and I guess you are if you’re reading this), you won’t get judged harshly for making mistakes when trying to speak Russian.
On the contrary, most Russians will appreciate it a lot that you’re taking the time and effort to learn (some) Russian. Even if you’re just for a week in Russia as a tourist, it’s still great to know a couple of basic phrases. Or if you’d like to surprise people, try some of these Russian words.
And knowing how to say hello in Russian is definitely one of the more important ones.
There are 3 categories of greetings in virtually every language:
- Formal greetings
- Informal greetings
- Situation-specific greetings
So that’s also how we’re going to discuss the Russian greetings here.
The following greetings are formal. That means you can use them whenever it’s a serious situation (customs, business, hotel). It’s also a good idea to say one of the following greetings whenever you’re not sure what is more appropriate.
The Russian language is more ‘formal-oriented’ than English, so it’s a good idea to only switch to informal ways of saying ‘hello’ once the other person uses an informal greeting.
The most common for ‘hello’, and also the most difficult for foreigners to pronounce at first. Здравствуйте contains 4 consonants after each other, and this is something we’re completely not used to in English (or most Western languages, really).
It may take some time to practice this one, but if you can say it—or even have the courage to say it—Russians will appreciate it.
One tip here is to skip the first ‘v’ (the one in the middle between the ‘a’ and the ‘s’). So you actually say ‘zdrastvuyte’ instead of ‘zdravstvuyte’. If you pay close attention to native speakers, you’ll find that they often omit it as well. It won’t make it easy to pronounce, but a little easier than before.
Since Здравствуйте is so common, you can use it in virtually any situation where in English you’d say ‘Hello’.
Доброе утро (dobroye utro)
Доброе утро literally means ‘Good morning’, so you can use it to say ‘hello’ in the mornings. Just like in English, the mornings go from around 6AM to 12PM.
Добрый день (dobriy den’)
Добрый день literally means ‘Good day’. Unlike Доброе утро, you can use this the whole day long, though it’s more common to say it during the day from 12PM to 6PM.
Добрый вечер (dobriy vecher)
As you may have expected, Добрый вечер means ’Good evening’. You can use this phrase anywhere after 6PM. And just like in English, you can also say it at night. Keep in mind that, just like ‘Good night’ in English means you wish someone a good night, the equivalent in Russian—‘Спокойной ночи’ is also only used to wish someone well, and not as a greeting.
The following informal greetings are used when meeting friends, or in non-serious situations. In theory, it’s better to stick with the formal greetings, unless you know for sure that you can be informal, such as with a good friend—or to reciprocate, when someone greets you with one of the following greetings.
In practice, for foreigners it doesn’t really matter. Especially in case you’re just starting out learning Russian, people won’t care too much if you accidentally use an informal greeting instead of a formal one, though you may get some weird looks if you say ‘Здарова’ to the customs officer.
Здрасте is the shortened version of Здравствуйте. If you ask a Russian to repeat the full word 10 times as fast as he can, you’ll end up with Здрасте. While this is way easier to pronounce, it also loses some of its formality, so that’s why it’s here in the informal greeting list.
Здравствуй is another shortened version of Здравствуйте. The ‘те’ in the end indicates polite speech. That’s because Здравствуйте is originally the polite command version of the verb Здравствовать (to live long). You don’t need this information, if you’re just casually learning a couple of phrases while being a tourist in Russia.
This is the most common informal word for hello in Russian. It’s a lot more simple to pronounce, and you can use it everywhere you would use the English ‘hi’.
Приветик is the diminutive form of Привет. You can most often hear it from kids or girls, or from adults saying it to kids.
It’s most often used by Russians when picking up the phone. As a foreigner, people don’t expect you to say this word.
Здарова is mainly used by younger guys to say ‘hi’. So if you’re in this age category, and you’re meeting some good friends, you can use this word. Though as a foreigner, it’s better to watch out for Russian slang, as it makes you look like a try-hard very easily.
Situation specific greetings
Добро пожаловать (dobro pozhalovat’)
Добро пожаловать is the Russian way of saying ‘Welcome’. So you wouldn’t say it when you meet a friend at a cafe or restaurant. You say Добро пожаловать when someone comes to your place. So if you’re traveling to Russia for the first time, and people are waiting for you at the airport, or in their own home, you can expect to hear this phrase from them. Добро пожаловать в Россию! means ‘Welcome to Russia!’.
С приездом (S priyezdom)
С приездом literally means ‘with your arrival’. You’ll be likely to hear this as well once you arrive in Russia. While you probably won’t say this in Russia, you can say it if you have Russian friends/people over in your home country.
And that’s it. We’ve discussed the most common variants of saying hello in Russian. If you’re traveling to Russia, it’s best to learn Здравствуйте and Привет, as they are the most common. Don’t worry if you mess up the pronunciation, as Russians would already appreciate the fact that you are trying to pronounce Здравствуйте 🙂
Author: Arie Helderman is a native Dutch speaker. He started learning Russian around 2015, and now runs a YouTube channel in Russian (Ари говорит по-Русски) with more than 50.000 subscribers. You can also find him on https://learntherussianlanguage.com/, where he shares his methods and strategies to learn conversational Russian in a relatively fast time frame.