Greetings and introduction are the first step in every new act of communication. It goes without saying that if you address someone correctly in a strict accordance with norms and standards of their language, you will make a good first impression. And that is something we all strive for, isn’t it? After all, all we want is to make contacts, be it professional or otherwise.
What you should know about Russian greetings is that they follow a little bit stricter code than in English. You have to distinguish between formal and informal greetings.
Formal vs. Informal
Depending on who you are talking to there are 2 different words in Russian that you might need rto use to address a person. There is an informal you (“ty“, Ты) and a formal you (“Vy“, Вы). In a written speech the formal you (“Vy“) will always be written with a capital letter.
Please not to confuse with “vy” (вы) written with a small letter which stands for you in plural, as in addressing 2 or more people.
So, when you talk to your close friend or family members you use “ty“, in case you talk to your boss, acquaintances, senior persons or anyone you would like to show some special respect, you use “Vy“.
It is possible to address a person of your age “ty” even if he/she is not a close friend of yours. But you can do so only if that person asks you to. Many young people do not like being too formal or feel that being addressed “Vy” makes them look older than they are.
In Russian families you can often see that even adult young people will address their aunts and uncles “Vy“. At the same time you might notice that many kids address their aunts and uncles less formal. It can be explained by the difference in the upbringing. The Soviet tradition was rather more formal than the currently developing one.
Hello and Goodbye
Each language has its own ways of greetings. They might depend on the time of the day, on how well you actually know the person, on the situation, social status of people, etc. Russian is not an exception here.
The most common way to greet a person who you are informal with is to use the word ‘Privet’ (Привет, pronounced as Pree-vet). It means ‘hello’. Another word for greeting in an informal act of communication is ‘Zdravstvuj’ (Здравствуй, zdrah-stvooy; literally: Be well).
If you have to greet a person with whom you are on formal terms you should use the word ‘Zdravstvujtye’ (Здравствуйте, pronounced as zdrah-stvooytee). The same word can be used if you have to greet a group of people.
Till recently ‘Zdravstvujtye’ was the most common way of greeting. It was used when addressed family members, close friends, kids. Now it is okay to use ‘Privet’ in most of situations.
Depending on the time of the day you can also use the following greetings:
Dobroye utro! (Доброе утро, pronounced as Dohb-ruh-ee oo-truh) ‑ Good morning!
Dobryj dyen’! (Добрый день, pronounced as dohb-rihy dyen’) Good afternoon! You can use it pretty much all the time when you are not sure what greeting to use. It only does not work for early mornings or late night)
Dobryj vyechyer! (Добрый вечер, pronounced as dohb–rihy vye-cheer) Good evening!
How are you?
Interestingly, ‘how are you?’ phrase is mostly used for informal communication. It is not common usually to ask that question in a formal communication act. However, if you absolutely have to ask this stick to Kak Vy pozhivayetye? (Как Вы поживаете, kahk vih puh-zhih-vah-ee-tee, literally: how is life treating you?).
However, the expression you will hear most often is Kak dyela? (Как дела?, pronounced as kahk dee-lah).
As you might have already figured out, asking ‘how are you?’ in Russian is not some standard formula which people respond with “fine, thank you!”. If you ask someone Kak dyela, be prepared to listen. Russians ask this question when they genuinely want to know how things are going with the person they talk to.
Responses to How are you (Kak dyela?)
Standard responses to that question would be:
- Khorosho (Хорошо, pronounced as khuh-rah-shoh) – Good
- Normal’no (Нормально, pronounced as nahr-mahl’-nuh) ‑ normal or okay
- Nichyego (Ничего, nee-chee-voh) ‑ so-so
- Nyeplokho (Неплохо, nee-ploh-khuh) ‑ not bad
- Pryekrasno (Прекрасно, pree-krahsnuh) – wonderful
- Otlichno (Отлично, ot-leech-nuh) ‑ fine
Do not forget to ask the person how she/he is doing. After you responded to that question and said how splendid, terrific or otlichno you are, ask them:
A u vas? (A у Вас? pronounced as ah oo vahs) ‑ And you? (formal) or
A u tyebya? (А у тебя? pronounced as ah oo tee-bya) ‑ And you? (informal)
- 5. Goodbye
The usual way to say goodbye in almost any situation is to use the word ‘Do svidaniya!‘ (до свидания, pronounced as duh-svee-dah-nee-ye).
Informal way of saying goodbye is to use the word ‘Poka’ (Пока, pronounced as pah-kah) – something close to English ‘bye’ or ‘see you later’).
If you say goodbye in the late evening before bed time it is okay to use ‘Spokojnoj Nochi’ (Спокойной ночи, pronounced as spah-kohy-nuhy noh-chee) ‑ Good night. You can use this one for both formal and informal situations.
1. Please read the following dialog and translate it into English.
2. Is the conversation formal or informal? How do you know?
Olya and Masha accidentally met in the bus.
Оля: Маша, привет!
Маша: Ой, Маш, привет! Как дела?
Оля: Ничего. А у тебя?
Маша: Неплохо. Ой, это моя остановка. До свидания, Оля.
остановка – bus stop
моя ‑ my
3. Make a dialog of your own, using formal greetings.
In our next lessons we will learn to introduce ourselves and some basic Russian grammar. Till then practice reading and learn vocabulary from our first and second lessons.