Stop saying OLÁ!
10 alternative forms to say Olá! in Brazilian Portuguese
Olá! in Brazilian Portuguese means Hello! and, as in English, we use this word to start a conversation, when we meet a person, when we want to introduce others or ourselves, to greet people and so on.
But, of course, we have not just one word that means Hello and in this text, you are going to learn 10 different ways to greet people in Brazilian Portuguese and improve your vocabulary, language skills and impress your friends!
Oi is a kind of short form of Olá. The origin of this word is controversial. According to etymologists, Oi came from the Greek and Latin word Oi, which was used to express pain. As time went by, people started using Oi to draw attention and nowadays Oi is just a greeting.
In Brazil, Oi is a neutral form of greeting and starting a conversation. But, if one wants to demonstrate enthusiasm (for example, you meet a friend you have not seen for a long time), normally, it is enough just lengthen the vowels and then Oi will be not so neutral.
2. Bom dia, boa tarde, boa noite
Bom dia means Good morning, Boa tarde means Good afternoon and Boa noite means good evening and, maybe, you already know this. Remember: We say Bom dia before midday, Boa tarde from midday to 6 pm and Boa noite after 6 pm until midnight.
But the thing is: you can use these phrases instead of Olá, especially in contexts where you don’t know a person but want to greet him anyway. In Brazil, it is very common to greet the bus driver, the janitor, the taxi driver (and so on) in this way.
Moreover, starting an interaction with Bom dia, boa tarde or boa noite is very polite and you can use these forms even in formal situations: at work, to greet your professor at the university, to greet the parents of your girlfriend or boyfriend and many others.
3. Com licença
Com licença means Excuse me, an expression we use in various different situations. The Portuguese word “licença” means permission, authorization and when we say “com licença” we want to say that we want to get permission to do something.
An example is getting permission to go somewhere: you are rushing to take the bus and somebody is walking very slowly in front of you, so you say “com licença”, which means in this case “give me permission to pass”.
But you also can use the expression “com licença” instead of Olá when you need to talk or ask someone for something, especially when you don’t know this person: to get some information or ask for help.
This is a very polite form to get attention or even interrupt one’s conversation and literally means that you want (or need) permission to say or ask for something right now.
Desculpe means Sorry, but in some situations, it is better to use this word rather than Olá. As the last example (com licença), Desculpe is often used when we need to start a conversation by asking for something, especially if we will ask something of an unknown person, like information or a favor.
Keep in mind that we just use Desculpe with this meaning when we need to ask a person to do something that this person is not supposed to do. Saying Desculpe is a polite way to do this.
In other words, if you are at the bakery, you don’t have to say “Desculpe” before ordering bread, because the bakery employee is there to do that, in this case, it is better to say Bom dia, Boa tarde or Boa noite.
Alô is the way we say Olá just on the phone. Maybe you are thinking “Why on earth do you have a word just to say Hello when you answer the phone?” As you see, the Portuguese language has a very rich lexicon. Alô is a neutral word, which means you can use it in all phone calls.
A curiosity about this word: Alô is derived from the English word Hello, which, in turn, seems to derive from the Hungarian term Hallod, which means “are you hearing me?”, it is perfect to use on the phone!
6. E aí!
E aí! means, literally, Hey, there!, but a better translation for this expression into English is Yo! It is a very informal and relaxed way to greet your friends.
Normally, we add to “E aí” another informal expression “beleza”, which in this context means “is everything fine?”. Literally, beleza means beauty.
Attention! Never use this expression (and the next ones that will be presented) in formal situations. Saying “E aí” to your boss, older or unknown people can be very rude and give a wrong impression about you.
Opa! is a word very difficult to translate. Basically, it has two meanings: an interjection used to demonstrate surprise or admiration, as Wow!, and a very informal greeting, as Hey!
Actually, Opa is a mix of these meanings and we use it to say Hello with some feeling of surprise, for example, when you run into a person that you didn’t expect to see or in an unusual place.
The ancient Romans greeted each other saying Salve! And although the Roman Empire has ended, its legacy continues and, in Brazil, it is common for people to greet each other informally in this way.
It is possible to translate Salve! as Salute, although saying Salve! in Brazil is a hundred times more usual than saying Salute! in the US. A better translation into English would be Hey! Normally, we greet just our close friends or young people saying Salve!
9. Fala aí!
The expression Fala aí! literally means Speak there!, but like most literal translations, it makes no sense at all. So, a better translation of Fala aí! in English would be What’s up!
And as in English, this expression is quite informal, so it is not a good idea to say it to older people, to your professor or to your boss.
10. Name or nickname
It is very common on chat apps to start a conversation with a person you know by calling him or her directly by the name, nickname or “title” (for example, mom, friend, dad), but just do this in informal situations, when there is intimacy between you.
To greet your boss, strangers or older people on chat apps, you better write Olá, bom dia (boa tarde, boa noite) and then start the conversation.
Queria conversar um pouco, você está ocupada?
Não, pode falar, aconteceu alguma coisa?
I wanted to talk a little, are you busy?
No, you can talk, did something happen?
Today you learned 10 alternative forms to greet people in Brazilian Portuguese:
Remember to always keep in mind which ones are more formal, informal, polite or neutral, which ones are better to use to ask things or just to start a conversation, and don’t forget to read the examples out loud, which were taken from real dialogues.
Start learning or improve your Brazilian Portuguese with Brazilingo!
Diana Soares Cardoso, Brazilian Portuguese teacher at Brazilingo.