Greetings are among the first phrases to learn in a new language. After all you want to be able to address people correctly and make a good first impression. Remember, there’s only one chance to make a first impression! And using the local greeting phrases is always an easy way to show people you respect their heritage and win them over from the start.
So let’s take a look at the different possibilities of how to say Hi in German.
Formal Ways of saying Hello in German
- Guten Tag
“Good day!” This is the most common form of greeting in the German language. It translates directly as “good day”, and works in most situations and can be used all day long. The only circumstance where it could be seen as a tad too formal is when you meet family or close friends. But apart from that, if you only want to remember one phrase, this is the one!
- Herzlich Willkommen
A phrase to welcome visitors, whether it’s in your home or at your office. Can also be shortened to “Willkommen”. The “Herzlich” means a heartily welcome.
- Schön Sie kennenzulernen
When you are introduced to someone new, you may tell them how pleased you are getting to know them. If it’s someone you already heard a lot about, but have never met so far, you may say “Schön, Sie endlich kennenzulernen.” The “endlich” means “eventually” as in “I’m delighted to meet you eventually.”
- Schön Sie zu sehen
In case the person you meet isn’t new to you, but in fact an old friend or acquaintance, you can use this phrase to say “nice to see you.”
Less Formal Ways how to say Hello in German
As you will have guessed, the direct translation of “Hello” in English. In private meetings it’s often used as the only word for welcoming someone.
In a business meeting it’s either used in combination with other greeting phrases, such as “Hallo, Frau Schmidt! Schön, Sie endlich kennenzulernen.” or as a short reply, e.g. when being introduced to a number of people.
Also used when you pick up the phone and don’t want to give your full name.
Meaning and pronunciation are the same as in English.
Can be translated as “Well?” or “Yeah?”. It’s a very informal, rather lazy greeting.
- Wie geht’s?
How are you? Other than in English, this salutation is rather used as a follow up to one of the other greeting phrases. And it’s really meant as a question, so you should give an answer.
“Mir geht’s gut.” (I’m fine.) is a perfectly apt reply.
German Greetings according to the Time of Day
- Guten Morgen
“Good Morning” in German. Used from the early hours until about lunch time at latest.
- Guten Tag
As mentioned above, can be used all day. Before 10 am, you’d rather say “Guten Morgen”, but you can use “Guten Tag” any time.
- Guten Abend
“Good evening!” Can be used from about dinner time until midnight.
- Gute Nacht
“Good night!” Rarely used as a salutation, but very common to wish someone a pleasant night and good sleep.
Regional Greetings in German
Of course there are also regional differences of how to say hello in German to address each other. German people often speak a dialect, that is a regional variant of the common High German or “Hochdeutsch”, which is the official language in Germany, Austria and some parts of Switzerland.
In many countries northeners are considered to be rather untalkative, at least compared to people from the South. And Germany is no exception to this rule, as people from the northern federal states (Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Niedersachsen and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) are considered less open and less communicative than people from the South.
But don’t be scared by this. They are generally just as kind as their fellow countrymen from further south. And once you win their heart, you’ll have made true friends.
However, the fact remains that they are rather short on words. And the fact that their usual greetings consist of only one word, may illustrate this.
In the North “Moin” is a universal greeting and can be used all day long. Which regularly confuses people from the South, as they assume “Moin” is northern dialect for “Morgen (Morning),” and so the greeting could only be used before lunch.
But whether the word really has anything to do with “Morning” is still a matter of debate. Many linguists see it more closely related to the Frisian “moi” or Dutch “mooie dag” (nice day.)
- Moin Moin / Moinsen
These are simple variations of the word “Moin.” In some areas the locals consider “Moin Moin” as a version only used by tourists who are desperate for a longer greeting. But I also know many Northerners who use it, so not all of them are so strict.
When you use the doubled version, you should emphasize the second word. That gives the whole thing a bit more vigour.
Another one word greeting and this time the etymology is clear, “Tach” is the northern version of “Tag” (day). Northeners in Germany have a tendency to pronounce the letter “g” just like the German “ch”. That’s why many inhabitants of “Hamburg” call their city “Hamburch”.
Tach is also a common one word greeting in the North, though less useful in a formal surrounding. You may use it to say hello to your neighbor, but probably wouldn’t do so when meeting your bank manager. And if you do, he might consider you to be a yokel.
Southern Germany / Austria
- Grüß Gott
The most common form of greeting in Bavaria and other (mostly catholic) parts of Southern Germany as well as Austria.
In it’s original form it meant something along the lines of “may god meet (or greet) you with kindness” or “may god bless you.” In the middle ages the word “gruß” meant both a greeting as well as a blessing, but it lost this double sense, especially in the northern, protestant parts of Germany.
Additionally the greeting has been shortened to a two word form, which translates directly to “greet god.”
This imperative is confusing for many people from other parts of Germany. So they often reply in a mocking manner with answers like “If I see him” or “Hopefully not too soon.”
See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grüß_Gott
Another often heard greeting in southern parts of Germany. This one stems from the Latin word for servant or slave and originally meant, “how may I serve you?” You can hear it being used both as a greeting but equally as a farewell.
In some parts of Switzerland the short Bavarian salutation “Grüß Gott” (see above) has been shortened even more to only one word. Many people assume it’s short for “(Ich) grüß Sie”, i.e. “I greet you”. But it’s origins are rather the same as “Grüß Gott.”
Job-Related German Greetings
A maritime expression, used originally to call another ship. Nowadays often used as a greeting by sailing enthusiasts and other water sportsmen.
- Glück auf / Glückauf
This phrase stems from the mining profession and translates roughly as “luck up!”
There are two possible meanings; one is to wish a miner good luck and that he may do up (discover) a new vein of ore. The other one is simply to come up again after the shift. Not only working in deep, dark tunnels was dangerous. But getting down into the earth over wooden ladders and steep slopes and getting out again, especially after a 10 hour work shift was very challenging and inflicted many casualties.
The phrase “Glück auf” was often used as a general greeting phrase in regions where many men worked in the (coal) mining profession (often for several generations). But it’s less common nowadays, due to the demise of the coal mining industry.
- Glück zu
“Luck to,” a phrase originating in the milling profession. In old times young men wanting to become a miller had to travel from mill to mill in order to learn from different masters and become knowledgeable in every aspect of the trade. Upon arrival at a new mill they greeted the miller with “Glück zu”, meaning they were bringing luck from their former mill to the new one, and asked for a job.
Hunting has a very long tradition in Germany and over the centuries hunters formed their very own kind of language. Many expressions used by hunters are unintelligible for outsiders.
The expression Horrido used as a greeting, doesn’t stem from the English word “horrid”. It’s origins lie in the cry “Ho, Rüd(e), Ho!”, used by dog handlers trying to push on their (male) hunting dogs.
Later on, Horrido has also been used by fighter pilots as a kind of war cry.
- Waidmannsheil / Weidmannsheil
Waidmann is an old -fashioned expression for a huntsman, and “heil” stems from the latin “salve” as a salutation.
Waidmannsheil is a very common greeting phrase amongst hunters. Whether you write it with “ai” or “ei” is a matter of debate, but the pronunciation is the same.
But not only the spelling is difficult, the correct reply isn’t easy either. If used as a greeting phrase between hunters, the correct reply is another “Waidmannsheil.”
When used as a compliment for a successful hunt, the correct reply is “Waidmannsdank.”
Which is also used as a reply when greeted with “Waidmannsheil” by a non-hunter, or if it’s not used as a salutation but in the sense of “good luck.”
Congratulations, you just learned how to say hello in German under any possible circumstance. But you don’t have to remember them all, of course.
When you’re going on holiday, a simple “Hallo” will suffice in most situations.
And “Guten Tag” can be used all day long in more formal situations, like business meetings, upon entering a shop or restaurant or at the theater, opera and so forth.