THERE are several ways to say hello in Spanish. Well, that is not exactly true. There is one Spanish word that literally translates into hello. The other ways are greetings, and while they are substitutes for saying hello, they have their own meanings.

The word for hello in Spanish is hola. In Spanish the letter ‘h’ is always silent, so hola is pronounced oh-lah.

Should you encounter a Spaniard first thing in the morning, you might instead greet him with Buenos días.

Buenos (pronounced bweh-nos) is the plural of the Spanish word for good, bueno.

Días (pronounced dee-ahs) is the plural of the Spanish word for day, día.

Literally, this Spanish phrase translates into good days, but means good day or good morning. As in English, there is no need to say hello as well.

At some point in the day, it becomes appropriate to change your greeting to Buenas tardes. Pronounced bweh-nahs tahr-des, the expression is equivalent to saying Good afternoon. I say ‘at some point’ because Spanish cultures do not adhere to the strictness of the clock like English speakers do. This makes sense in a way since tardes comes from the verb, tardar, the infinitive form which means to take time. The phrase itself doesn’t make sense – tardes is literally the second person singular subjunctive form of to take time. Huh, right? But an English person is saying afternoon, that is, literally after the noon hour, so it’s tied to the clock. You could say buenos días into mid afternoon and still be correct.

Come evening, you would greet someone buenas noches (pronounced bweh-nahs noh-ches), which is literally good nights, plural, but stands for good night.

Another way of saying hello in Spanish is simply to say Buenas. The beauty of this one word is that it is appropriate for any time of day. And if you had reason to answer a telephone in Spanish – perhaps while vacationing in Ibiza? – you could say aló. Ah-loh.