How to greet and say goodbye in Hebrew

How to greet and say goodbye in Hebrew

Shalom khaverim, hi friends and welcome to this definitive blog post on greeting (and farewelling) people in Hebrew, as people actually do it in Israel today.

We’re going to look at 13 different words/phrases that you can use straight away to start and end conversations in Hebrew.


This post is written by Mike, a Modern Hebrew teacher and coach based in Israel, the owner of the website teachermike.co.il.


My best advice on working on your Hebrew is to just get out there and speak it. This article will help you take that first step by giving you words and phrases you need to start conversations with anyone.

From there it’s just a matter of continuing to learn new words and phrases — such as those in this article here — so that you can have progressively longer and longer conversations.

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Ok, let’s get to it...

How to greet people in Hebrew

Phrase #1: Ahlan, אַהְלָן,

Meaning: Hello, hi

Use: Ahlan, אַהְלָן, comes from Arabic and is a classic casual greeting used in Israel today. It’s your go-to word for starting a conversation. Why? Because you can use it with strangers and friends alike, the young and the not so young, the policeman and vegetable seller at the shuk (market). So, you can say ahlan to everyone that you see or meet, and it’s just like saying hello.

Example: In the shop 1: Ahlan אַהְלָן (hello)
2: Ahlan אַהְלָן (hello)
1: Ma nishma? מָה נִשְׁמַע (how are things?)
2: Beseder בְּסֵדֶר (fine)

Note: After saying ahlan you might add one of the ‘how are you’ phrases, like ma nishma מָה נִשְׁמַע , or ma kore מָה קוֹרֶה. Read on for more examples.

Phrase #2: Shalom שָׁלוֹם

Meaning: Hello, peace

Use: Shalom שָׁלוֹם is a classic, less casual, greeting in Israel. Don’t get me wrong — it’s used just as frequently as ahlan (אהלן), just a little more serious. I would use shalom more with elderly people or in business meetings, whereas I’d choose ahlan on the street in a shop, or with younger people. Even though shalom means both peace and goodbye, it’s less common to use it as goodbye as there are other words to use instead.

Example: In a restaurant 1: Shalom שָׁלוֹם (hello)
2: Ahlan אַהְלָן (hello)
1: Ata rotze kafe? אתה רוצה קפה (do you want coffee?)
2: Ken toda כן תודה (yes thanks)

Phrase #3: Hey, hi הַי/הֵיי

Meaning: Hi, hey

Use: Just as it is the case with many other languages, English has crept into Hebrew and now one of the common ways to say hello in Israel is to say hi or hey (with Israeli accent of course). My disclaimer: this is predominantly used if you know the person already, or if you are really trying to sound casual with someone you don’t know. I recommend ahlan אהלן or shalom שלום, if you don’t know the person very well, and hi/hey הי/היי if you do.

Example: At a friends place 1: Hey Nivi. Ma kore? היי ניבי מה קורה (Hey Nivi, What’s up?)
2: Noam! Hi! Ma nishma?! נועם הי מה נשמע (Noam! Hi! How are things?)

Phrase #4: Boker tov בּוֹקֶר טוֹב

Meaning: Good morning

Use: Boker tov בּוֹקֶר טוֹב is used in Hebrew just as it is in English. It’s not just a phrase you say in the morning, but you can use it instead of shalom שלום or ahlan אהלן. In other words, it’s just another greeting. Say boker tov (בוקר טוב) when you wake up and say it on the street, as long as it’s before midday, to anyone you see. If they are having a particularly good morning Israelis will respond with boker or (בוקר אור) which means “morning light”. Only use this as a response to boker tov.

Example: At the cafe 1: Boker tov בּוֹקֶר טוֹב (good morning)
2: Boker or בּוֹקֶר אוֹר (morning light!) OR boker tov בוקר טוב (good morning)
1: Kafe o te קפה או תה (coffee or tea?)
2: Te bevakasha תה בבקשה (tea please)

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Phrase #5: Tzoharaim tovim צָהֳרַיִם טוֹבִים

Meaning: Good afternoon (literally: ‘good midday’)

Pronunciation: First make sure your pronunciation is right. It’s four syllables - TZO (like ts in cats) - HA - RAI (like rye) - IM. It’s a phrase that torments new Hebrew speakers for months, so make sure that you nail its pronunciation from the beginning. You’ll be grateful for it later, as your Hebrew develops. Use: Use tzoharaim tovim צהריים טובים, from midday until a few hours before evening. It means good midday, so if you want to say good afternoon you’d need to add akhar אחר at the beginning: akhar tzoharaim tovim אחר צהריים טובים.

This phrase can be used until the sunset. The above instructions might sound a little technical, but it’s pretty useful to know when you actually go out and speak to people.

Example: At the falafel stall at 2pm 1: Tzoharaim tovim צָהֳרַיִם טוֹבִים (good midday)
2: Tzoharaim tovim צָהֳרַיִם טוֹבִים (good midday)
1: At rotza falafel את רוצה פלאפל (do you want falafel?)
2: Barur ברור (of course)

Phrase #6: Erev tov עֶרֶב טוֹב

Meaning: Good evening

Use: When the sun has set it’s time to bring out erev tov ערב טוב — a phrase used to greet people in the evening hours. It’s a little formal, like in English, so I wouldn’t use it with my friends but rather at a restaurant, with a vendor, or a bus driver to sound friendly and polite.

Example: At the movies at night 1: Erev tov עֶרֶב טוֹב (good evening)
2: Erev tov עֶרֶב טוֹב (good evening)
1: Kartisim bevakasha כרטיסים בבקשה (tickets please)
2: Bevakasha בבקשה (please/here you are)

Phrase #7: Ma nishma מָה נִשְׁמַע

Meaning: How are things, how’s it going, how are you? (literally what’s sounds?)

Use: This is a wonderful phrase to know. Why? Just like ahlan אהלן it’s useful in a wide range of contexts. What’s more, it’s easy to pronounce for non-native Hebrew speakers — no tricky sounds in there! You can say ma nishma מה נשמע to people you don’t know, and to your best friends. It’s not a slang expression, so it fits well in formal situations, but it’s not old-fashioned either, so it can be used in casual contexts too.

Example: At the cafe Waiter: ahlan ma nishma? אהלן מָה נִשְׁמַע (hello, how’s it going?)
You: beseder toda בסדר תודה (fine thanks)
Waiter: ma bishvilekh? מה בשבילך? (what for you?)
You: americano khazak אמריקנו חזק (strong americano)
Waiter: sababa סבבה (no problems/cool)

Phrase #8: Ma kore מָה קוֹרֶה

Meaning: What’s happening?

Use: Another classic phrase that can be used at the beginning of many of your interactions. Ma kore מה קורה is a casual greeting, like the English “what’s up” or “what’s happening?”. It can be used when talking to friends or strangers, although it’s heard more often when talking to people you know. It’s a straight alternative to ma nishma(מה נשמע), but more casual.

Example: On the phone to your friend Friend: Hey היי (hey)
You: Ma kore מה קורה (what’s happening?)
Friend: Beseder, ma kore בסדר, מה קורה (fine, what’s happening?)
You: Sababa סבבה (cool, no problems)

Phrases to end a conversation

Phrase #9: Yom tov יוֹם טוֹב

Meaning: good day, have a good day

Use: Wishing someone a nice day is a standard, friendly way to end a conversation, used all the time In Israel. You can replace yom (יום) with shavua (שבוע) to wish someone a nice week: shavua tov (שבוע טוב). This is usually used on Saturday night, Sunday, Monday, and maybe Tuesday when wishing someone a nice week ahead. Another variation is to say nifla (נפלא) instead of tov: yom nifla יום נפלא — have a wonderful day. You can use all of these phrases with friends and strangers alike.

Example: Leaving the cafe You: Toda raba תודה רבה (thanks very much)
Waitress: Bevakasha בבקשה (my pleasure)
You: Yom tov יום טוב (have a good day)
Waitress: Yom tov, bye יום טוב ביי (have a good day, bye)

Phrase #10: Bye, bye bye בַּיי, בַּיי בַּיי

Meaning: bye, bye bye

Use: Another example of how English has become part of Hebrew is bye bye ביי ביי, or just bye ביי. This is so common now in Israel that it’s normal to say it to strangers and friends alike. You can use bye (ביי), or bye bye (ביי ביי) completely interchangeably. For extra effect, deploy your Israeli accent ;-)

Example: Leaving a friend’s place You: Haya kef היהי כיף (it was fun)
Friends: Bye ביי (bye)
You: Bye toda ביי תודה (bye, thanks)

Phrase #11: Yalla, yalla bye יַאלְלָה, יַאלְלָה ביי

Meaning: Time to get going, moving along, Use: Hebrew speakers love using yalla יאללה, and rightfully so. It’s fun, and it’s super common. Yalla יאללה comes from, Arabic and unfortunately has no English equivalent. It captures a specific moment in a single word — it’s that moment when you’re ready to end a conversation and hang up the phone, or move on to a next activity. It functions as an acknowledgment that the conversation is ending. It’s often followed by bye ביי — yalla bye (יאללה ביי).

Example: On the phone to a friend

You: Yalla, yom tov יאללה יום טוב (time to get going, have a good day)

Friend: Yalla, bye יאללה ביי (yes it is time to get going, bye)

OR

You: Yalla, nedaber makhar יאללה נדבר מחר (time to get going, we’ll speak tomorrow)

Friend: Beseder, bye בסדר ביי (fine, bye)

Phrase #12: Lehitra’ot לְהִתְרָאוֹת

Meaning: See you later, goodbye

Use: Lehitra’ot להתראות is the standard way of saying goodbye in Hebrew. It might be a little harder to pronounce, but it’s super important, so take it slowly and pronounce it correctly.

LE-HIT-RA-OT

This should become one of your go-to ways for saying goodbye. It’s not overly slangy or informal, and can be used in any context. If you were in a more formal situation, like a business meeting, this is how you’d say goodbye, rather than using yalla or bye which have a much less formal overtone.

Example: Leaving a restaurant/cafe 1: Toda raba תודה רבה (thanks very much)
2: Bevakasha בבקשה (you’re welcome, my pleasure)
1: Lehitra’ot להתראות (see you later/goodbye)
2: Bye, lehitra’ot להתראות, ביי (see you later/goodbye)

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Phrase #13: Tov טוֹב

Meaning: Good, alright then…

Use: Tov טוב literally means good, but it has recently taken a role which, I believe, warrants its inclusion in this list. It’s used at a point when you know that the conversation is about to end, and there isn’t really much more to say. Its use is similar to that of yalla (יאללה). It’s also a great word to have up your sleeve to help the conversations flow more naturally. And, if you want to sound like an Israeli youngster say tovoosh טובוש instead.

Example: Finishing a conversation with a friend 1: Tov, nedaber makhar טוב, נדבר מחר (alright then, we’ll speak tomorrow)
2: Sababa, yalla סבבה יאללה (cool, let’s get going)
1: Bye ביי (bye)

So, there you are, 13 phrases you will use over and over and over again in your Hebrew interactions. If you’re looking to work on your reading in addition to your speaking then check out this super comprehensive guide.

Now all that remains is the fun part — go out there and get speaking! The more you use these phrases, the more you’ll understand the nuances of their usage.

So, yalla יאללה go have fun!