How to say Hi in Hebrew (and Bye)…
Shalom Khaverim, Hi Friends and welcome to the definitive blog post on greeting (and farewelling) people in Hebrew, as we 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.
My best advice on working on your Hebrew is to just go out there and speak it. This article will help you take that first step by giving you the words/phrases that you need to start conversations with anyone. From there it’s just a matter of continuing to learn new words and new phrases – such as those in this article here – so that you can have progressively longer and longer conversations. Or the folks at lingualift put together a very comprehensive Hebrew resource guide.
Ok, let’s get to it…
Phrase #1: Ahlan, אַהְלָן
Meaning: Hello, Hi
Use: Ahlan אַהְלָן is the 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. So you can say Ahlan to everyone that you see/meet and it’s just like saying hello. It comes from Arabic by the way.
In the shop
1: Ahlan אַהְלָן (hello)
2: Ahlan אַהְלָן (hello)
1: Ma nishma? מָה נִשְׁמַע (how’s things?)
2: Beseder בְּסֵדֶר (fine)
Note: After saying Ahlan you might then add a ‘how are you phrase’ like ma nishma מָה נִשְׁמַע or ma kore מָה קוֹרֶה. See below for these phrases with more examples.
Phrase #2: Shalom שָׁלוֹם
Meaning: Hello, peace
Use: Shalom שָׁלוֹם is the classic less casual greeting in Israel. But don’t get me wrong – it’s used just as frequently as ahlan אהלן and in certain contexts even more so. It’s just a little less casual. But it’s crucial to know and you’ll hear it all the time. I would use shalom more with elderly people or in a meeting. I would use Ahlan אהלן more on the street at a shop or with younger people. Shalom also means peace and it also means goodbye. It’s less common to use it as goodbye and there are other words to use instead (see below).
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: Like with many languages English has crept into Hebrew and now one of the common ways to say hello in Israel is just to say hi or hey (with a little Israeli accent of course). My disclaimer is that this is predominantly used if you know the person already or if you are really looking to sound friendly or casual to someone that you don’t know. I recommend ahlan אהלן or shalom שלום if you don’t really know the person and hi/hey הי/היי if you do.
At a friends place
1: Hey Nivi. Ma kore? היי ניבי מה קורה (Hey Nivi. What’s happening?)
2: Noam! Hi! Ma nishma?! נועם הי מה נשמע (Noam! Hi! How’s things?)
Phrase #4: Boker tov בּוֹקֶר טוֹב
Meaning: Good morning
Use: Boker tov בּוֹקֶר טוֹב is used in Hebrew similarly to that in English in that it is not just something that you say in the morning but it also functions 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 see someone, say it on the street (as long as it’s before midday) to anyone that you see. Also, Israelis often respond with boker or if you’re having a particularly good morning בוקר אור which means morning light. But only use this as a response when someone says boker tov to you.
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)
Phrase #5: Tzoharaim tovim צָהֳרַיִם טוֹבִים
Meaning: Good afternoon (literally ‘good midday’)
Pronunciation: First make sure your pronunciation is right. Click here to a cheatsheet of this post with every word and it’s pronunciation in a single PDF. It’s four syllables – TZO (like “ts” in “cats”) – HA – RAI (like rye) – IM. It’s a phrase that plagues new Hebrew speakers for months so make sure that you nail it from the beginning and engrain correct pronunciation into your mouths. You’ll be thankful down the line as your Hebrew develops.
Use: Use tzoharaim tovim צהריים טובים from midday until a few hours before evening when greeting people. It actually 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. And if you do use this good afternoon version then you can say it until evening (sunset). This might sound a little technical but it’s pretty useful to know when you actually go out and start saying this to people.
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. It’s used when greeting people in the evening hours. It’s a little formal, like English, so I wouldn’t use it with my friends but I would certainly use it at a restaurant or with a vendor or bus driver if I wanted to be friendly/polite.
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’s things, how’s it going, how are you? (literally what’s sounds?)
Use: This is a wonderful phrase to know. Why? Because like ahlan אהלן it’s just so useful in such a wide range of contexts. And what’s more, it’s easy for us non-native Hebrew speakers to pronounce. You can say ma nishma מה נשמע to people that you don’t know and to your best friends. It’s not slang so it’s useful in formal contexts and it’s not old fashioned so it’s useful in casual contexts too.
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 phrase, like “what’s up” or “what’s happening?” in English. It can be used with friends and with strangers although it is more commonly used with people that you know. It’s a straight alternative to ma nishma מה נשמע but more casual.
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)
Up till now we’ve spoken about phrases for beginning a conversation. The remaining phrases are for ending one.
Phrase #9: Yom tov יוֹם טוֹב
Meaning: good day, have a good day
Use: The standard and friendly way to end a conversation – wishing someone a nice day. You can replace yom יום with shavua שבוע to wish someone a nice week – shavua tov שבוע טוב. This is used on Saturday night, Sunday, Monday and maybe Tuesday when wishing someone a nice week ahead. Another variation is to use nifla נפלא instead of tov טוב which means wonderful – yom nifla יום נפלא – have a wonderful day. You can use all these phrases with friends and strangers alike. Yom tov יום טוב is a very very common thing to say in Israel, so use it all the time.
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 you say it to strangers and friends alike. You can use bye ביי or bye bye ביי ביי completely interchangeably. For extra effect through in that Israeli accent.
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: Yalla יאללה is famous and new Hebrew speakers love using it, and rightfully so. It’s fun and it’s also super common. Yalla יאללה is Arabic and it is a word that is lacking in English. That’s because it captures a moment in conversation in a single word. It’s that moment when you’re ready to end the conversation and hang up the phone or move on to your next activity for the day. It’s like an acknowledgment that the conversation is ending so see you next time. It essentially helps the conversation to end. That’s yalla יאללה. And it’s often followed by bye ביי – yalla bye יאללה ביי
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)
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 say but it’s super important so take it slow and pronounce it correctly. LE-HIT-RA-OT. This should definitely be one of your go-to sayings for saying goodbye. It’s nice, not overly slangy or informal, and can be used really in any context. If you were in a more formal context, like a business meeting then this is how you’d say goodbye. As opposed to yalla or bye which have slightly less formal uses.
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)
Phrase #13: Tov טוֹב
Meaning: Good, alright then…
Use: Tov טוב literally means good but it has taken a place in Hebrew conversation that I believe begs inclusion in this list. You know that point in a conversation where you know that it’s about to end and there’s not really much more to say? That’s when you say tov טוב. It’s similar to yalla יאללה in that it signifies that the conversation is ending. It’s a great word to have up your sleeve to help your conversations flow more naturally. And if you want to sound like a younger Israeli then say tovoosh טובוש instead.
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 that you will use over and over and over again in your Hebrew interactions.
I’ve put together a little cheat sheet which includes all of these sayings on a single page which you can download on your phone or print out. It also includes sound files of all of the sayings and dialogues in this guide. I can’t recommend strongly enough the importance of pronunciation, especially as you’re starting out and learning the sounds of Hebrew. These sound files will ensure that people will understand you and, who knows, might even think that you’re Israeli.
Now all that remains is the fun part – go out there and get speaking. The more you use these sayings the more you’ll understand when and how to use them. So yalla יאללה go have fun!