Who doesn’t love listening to the Italian language? One of the Italian words you’ll hear the most is ciao. What exactly is the meaning of ciao in Italian, and where does the word come from? Can anyone say it? And are there alternatives?
Let’s dig in and answer those questions about ciao.
Table of Contents
How To Pronounce Ciao
Ciao is pronounced CHOW.
Listen to the pronunciation here:
History of the Italian Word Ciao
Even today, where (almost) everyone in Italy speaks Italian, the use of regional dialect is still very widespread.
The Italian greeting ciao comes from an ancient greeting in Venetian dialect – s’ciavo, literally ‘slave’ (implying ‘I’m your slave’). A more recognizable version today might be ‘Your humble servant’.
It originated from the Latin sclavus and it was used to show respect.
Interestingly the word is also linked to the ‘Slav’ people from central and eastern Europe. Many of the ‘Slavs’ were captured and enslaved in wars, and this led to it becoming synonymous with ‘enslaved person’.
From s’ciavo (the modern Italian equivalent is schiavo) to s’ciao and then today’s ciao is a short step:
The expression ‘your slave’ or ‘your servant’, common centuries ago, became well-known in the comedies of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) and it’s also seen in the Germanic/Central European courtesy word servus, which means the same thing.
Ciao was first adopted in Northern Italy and gradually made its way to the rest of the country. It’s strange that such a well-known Italian word is a relatively recent addition to the language.
What Does Ciao Mean in Italian?
In Italian we used the word ciao as an all-purpose greeting and farewell.
It means both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. Or, as it’s very casual, ‘hi’ and ‘bye’.
It has become popular in many other languages worldwide, often as ‘goodbye’ and sometimes as ‘hello’ too. These include:
Less Common Ways Ciao is Used
It’s also used as a way of saying ‘that’s it.’
Si è stancato del lavoro e ciao – He had enough of working and that’s it/he was off!
Italian children are often told to fare ciao (to wave hello or goodbye).
When Can You Say Ciao?
Ciao is often a default greeting when you don’t speak Italian.
In reality it should only be used in specific situations:
- when you know someone well
- in truly informal settings
- if you’re saying it to someone younger than yourself
Otherwise, we have a host of other ways to say hello and goodbye – more on those below.
Don’t worry if you’re not an Italian speaker and you use ciao – no one is likely to object, but sometimes there are situations where something more formal or more precise is called for.
For example, ciao is too much of an informal salutation in situations like these:
- you enter a shop in Italy
- you are meeting someone for the first time
- you’re saying goodbye to someone older than you
You may also find yourself saying ciao and the other person replying with something different. That’s totally normal too!
Good To Know: Italians don’t use ciao or other greetings to answer the phone. Instead, we say pronto, or ‘ready.’
Other Italian Greetings You Can Use
This is pretty common greeting. It sits nicely on the boundary between a formal greeting and informal greeting, so if you’re not sure what to say, it’s a good one to go for! It’s more often used as ‘hello,’ but you can also use it to say ‘goodbye.’
Good To Know: This is a popular greeting on hiking trails in Italy.
It means good morning. For example, if you walk into a store you’d say buongiorno to the cashier. It’s a polite way of saying hello in the morning, although it’s pretty much used throughout the day even into the afternoon (much like the French bonjour).
A polite way of talking your leave. You’re literally saying ‘have a good day’ to the other person.
Much less used, especially in conversation. It means ‘good afternoon’ but it’s generally only used by newsreaders!
It means ‘good evening’ and is formal/polite. This is what we used as an all-purpose ‘good afternoon’ and ‘good evening’. It’s usually used as a greeting. You’ll find it being used a lot more often (and earlier in the day) in the south of Italy than in the North.
Like buona giornata. It’s formal/polite.It’s generally used to say goodbye in the late afternoon/evening: ‘Have a good evening.’
Goodnight! This is basically what you say when you’re saying goodbye to someone for the last time that day, late in the evening (before they go to bed). It’s both formal and informal.
This is the most literal equivalent of saying ‘goodbye’ in a formal/polite way. It means ‘until we see each other again.’ If you want to be uber-polite it’s Arrivederla (often said to your bank manager!).
An informal way to say ‘see you soon.’
A fra/tra poco
An informal way to say ‘see you in a bit/a while’ (you’re going away and you’re coming back).
An informal way to say ‘see you later.’
A più tardi
Another informal way to say ‘see you later.’
An informal way to say ‘see you next time.’
Like ‘alla prossima,’ it’s an informal salutation. It literally means ‘we’ll see each other,’ and it’s used as ‘see you later!’
It’s archaic, literary, or downright overdramatic. It means ‘farewell’ (usually said by one star-crossed lover to another as they part forever).
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Ciao Bella Meaning in Italian
Ciao Bella translates to ‘hello, beautiful,’ or ‘goodbye, beautiful.’
If you’re a young woman traveling in Italy, you’re likely to hear it on the street. It’s used as a catcall here. So, men – this isn’t a classy way to get a woman’s attention. Try something else!
If you use it with someone you’re close to, it’s an endearing way to greet a young woman or say goodbye.
I sometimes use it to greet a friend, and as a farewell on the phone.
Ciao in Pop Culture
After pizza, ciao is probably the most common Italian word to pass into other languages.
In 1959 Domenico Modugno (the singer famous for Volare) and Johnny Dorelli won the San Remo Song Festival with Piove, but everyone remembers it for the chorus “ciao ciao bambina”.
1967 saw Luigi Tenco with another huge hit, “ciao amore ciao” which he performed at the San Remo festival with the famous French singer Dalida. Tenco tragically committed suicide, allegedly on learning that his song had been eliminated from the competition!
In the same year the Piaggio motorcycle company baptized its 49cc engine two-stroke scooter the ‘Ciao’. It went on to become one of the most popular models and was produced until 2006.
In 1990 when Italy hosted the World Cup Soccer Championship the mascot was a little green, white and red stick figure called Ciao.
Of course, the most popular ciao of recent times is probably the song “Bella Ciao” which was made famous by the Netflix global hit “Money Heist”. The song was sung by Italian partisans during the Second World War as an anti-fascist hymn to resistance and liberation, although the song has earlier origins (and different lyrics) and was probably sung by the mondine, women working in the rice fields of Northern Italy, especially in the Po Valley in protest against their harsh working conditions and exploitation.
Is ciao goodbye and hello?
Yes, in Italian ciao is both hello and goodbye (or ‘hi’ and ‘bye’).
Is ciao rude?
No, it’s not rude, just informal. If you’re a non-native speaker and it’s all you can remember, no problem (also if people are younger than you, it’s in an informal setting or the people you’re talking to are friends or acquaintances). There are better solutions than ciao in other circumstances.
When can you use ciao? ›
You can say ciao when you are speaking to friends, relatives, people of your age, or children. Otherwise, it's better to use alternatives like salve, buongiorno, buonasera or, if you're leaving, arrivederci. E.g: you've partied all night with your friends and want to say bye in Italian? You can use ciao.What is the reply for ciao? ›
Here, the reply could be altrettanto (nice to meet you too).What is the use of ciao in Italian? ›
Ciao (/tʃaʊ/ CHOW, Italian: [ˈtʃaːo] ( listen)) is an informal salutation in the Italian language that is used for both "hello" and "goodbye". Originally from the Venetian language, it has entered the vocabulary of English and of many other languages around the world.What does ciao literally mean? ›
From Italian ciao (“hello, goodbye”), from Venetian ciao (“hello, goodbye; your (humble) servant”), from Venetian s-ciao (“servant, slave”) or s-ciavo (“servant, slave”), from Medieval Latin sclavus (“Slav, slave”), related also to Italian schiavo, English Slav, slave and old Venetian S-ciavón ("Slav"), from Latin ...Can you use Ciao to say hello? ›
Ciao! = “Hi/Hello!” or “Bye/Goodbye!” Ciao is the informal way of saying hello and goodbye. It is the most common way of greeting in Italy.Why do Italians say Ciao twice? ›
In English ciao is used exclusively as a salutation when saying good-bye. In Italian, it's used as both a greeting and a farewell. And when saying good-bye, Italians will often say it twice: ciao ciao… The word comes from sixteenth-century Venetian dialect, ciao from the Latin sclavus meaning slave.Can you say Ciao to strangers? ›
This is also important when saying goodbye when you are talking on the telephone with a stranger. Never say, “Ciao.” When you are introduced or encounter a stranger, use the words buongiorno (good day) or buonasera (good evening), depending on the time of day (buongiorno before 1pm and buonasera after 1pm).How do you respond to Grazie? ›
The response to grazie that you're most likely to use or hear is prego (you're welcome), or you could say di niente (not at all). For greater emphasis you can use s'immagini or si figuri in the formal form, and figurati informally (don't mention it).How do you respond to Bonjourno? ›
I'd say that as a rule of thumb you should use the greeting that a person has chosen when addressing you. In other words, if they say “Buongiorno” reply in the same manner and if the say “Ciao” follow their lead too. When you have to greet someone first rather be too formal than too casual.Do Italians say ciao Bella to everyone? ›
Italians generally use ciao bella/o among close friends or acquaintances—not with strangers, superiors, or elders—and roughly as an equivalent to the English “See ya, lovely” or Later, buddy.”
What does ciao Bellissima mean? ›
What is Ciao Bellissima? The English translation is: Bye (see you), you beautiful girl!What is the Italian word for OK? ›
In the Italian language, “Ok” means “Va bene.” Although it is an English word, “Ok” has become a pretty common Italian word with time. It is often used in other languages.What does ciao mean love? ›
Ciao is a standard informal greeting in Italian that translates as hello / hi when you meet someone or bye when you part ways. amore. Amore means love. Just like its English equivalent, it can also function a term of endearment.What does ciao Amore mean? ›
(ciao), amore. : (hi), my love.What is the most common Italian greeting? ›
The common verbal greeting is “Ciao” (Hello). This is quite casual. People may also say “Buongiorno” (Good day) or “Buonasera” (Good evening) to be more formal. Address a person by their title and last name, and continue to do so until invited to move to a first-name basis.Can I say Ciao Bella? ›
You use it when addressing a woman or describing a car, a house, a lamp (as these are feminine nouns). A woman can either say ciao bello to a man or ciao bella to another woman. She (or any other subjects) can't say ciao bella to a man, for example, as bella is the female form of the adjective.Is it OK to say Ciao in Italy? ›
Ciào has become so informal (some may argue too informal) that you most likely would never have an issue using this word as a greeting while roaming around Italy. The word has lost most, if not all, of its negative connotation and is one of the most widely accepted greetings in the world!Why do Italians say Ciao ragazzi? ›
They mean, roughly, 'guys', 'folks', 'lads', 'ladies', 'you lot' – anything you'd use to address a group of people at once. Ciao raga'! Hi guys!How do you pay for dinner in Italy? ›
Asking for for the check
Unless you are eating in a touristic restaurant, the waiter/waitress will not come to you asking if he/she can bring the bill. You will have to speak up and ask directly for it! Indeed, in Italy it is consider rude “rushing” the guests with the payment.
How do you respond? You should be responding, “Grazie e arrivederci.” Which means “Thank you and goodbye.”
What are three ways to say goodbye in Italian? ›
- Ciao (Bye)
- Arrivederci (Goodbye)
- A presto (See you soon)
- A dopo (Later)
- A domani (See you tomorrow)
- A tra poco (In a bit)
- Ci vediamo (See you)
- Alla prossima (Until next time)
If you've just said Grazie to someone, they may reply with Prego literally meaning You're welcome or My pleasure.How do you answer Prego in Italian? ›
It presumably is because of this original meaning (the verb “to pray”) that “prego” has become the instant reply to “grazie”, which means “thanks”.What is Grazie tutti? ›
English translation of Grazie a tutti in context
TRANSLATION. thank you all.
When you're asked “Tutto bene?”, you can answer: SI, GRAZIE! A TE? – Yes, thanks!What is Buongiorno a tutti? ›
Buongiorno Signorina = Good morning miss. Buongiorno a tutti = Good morning everyone.How do you respond to salut? ›
So to say “hello, how are you?” in French, simply say bonjour, ça va? or salut, ça va? If someone says this to you, you can respond with ça va bien (“it's going well”) or tout va bien (“everything's going well”).How do you say hello my beautiful girl in Italian? ›
Need to know: Ciao bella!
Literally, ciao bella means 'Hello beautiful' and you may have heard in in movies with guys shouting 'ciao bella' to attractive girls passing by.
Start learning the most common Italian phrases
Mi scusi: Excuse me. Mi dispiace: I am sorry. Vorrei un biglietto di sola andata per Roma: I'd like a one-way ticket to Rome. Quanto costa?: How much is it?
As we've seen, the main difference between ciao and arrivederci lies in the degree of formality that is conveyed by the speaker. Ciao is used in informal situations between close friends and family, whereas arrivederci should be used with everyone else if you want to play it safe.
What does ciao Papi? ›
Translation of "Ciao papi" in English
Ciao, papi! < figlia 1: Good night, daddy.
Italian: metronymic from the medieval female personal name Bella, meaning 'beautiful'.What does ciao Ciccio meaning? ›
ciao ciccio translation | Italian-English dictionary
(all'arrivo) hello!, hi! , (alla partenza) bye(-bye)!
If you'd like to say “yes” in Italian, you'd generally say “sì.” In some situations you could also use “certo,” which means certainly/definitely/sure but which implies “yes.”What is Prego Italian? ›
/'preɡo/ (risposta / invito) please / you're welcome , after you , don't mention it. - “Grazie mille” – “prego” “Thank you so much” – “You're welcome”What is Prego for? ›
The most common translation is 'you're welcome': prego is what you say when someone else thanks you. – Grazie mille!Does Ciao mean see you later? ›
interjection Italian. (used as a word of greeting or parting): hello; goodbye; so long; see you later.Why do Italians say ciao Bella? ›
Ciao Bella translates to 'hello, beautiful,' or 'goodbye, beautiful. ' If you're a young woman traveling in Italy, you're likely to hear it on the street. It's used as a catcall here.Who says ciao Bella? ›
Ciao Bella is Italian for "hello beautiful". It is a common greeting used by many Italians to greet women, particularly those younger than them. Italians tend to kiss on both sides of the cheek and also gesture when embracing people.Is Ciao formal or informal? ›
Ciao is an informal greeting: you use it when you meet a person you know well, a child or you may hear it between young people or when an older person addressed a child or a teenager.
Why do some Spanish people say ciao? ›
- In Italian, "ciao" means both "hi" and "bye". The word, as imported by other languages, including Spanish, only means "bye". - It was more popular in Spain in the 60's or thereabouts, it's not frequent nowadays. - It's more usual in some Spanish-speaking countries than in others.Why do some Spanish Say Ciao? ›
The meaning of ciao in Spanish is "adios" or "hasta luego" (also meaning "see you later"). Because of the italian influence in the Spanish culture, you may find some Spanish say "ciao" when sending goodbyes to someone.How do you respond to hello in Italian? ›
Below are the various ways you can say hello to someone in Italian. You can respond with the exact same word: Ciao.Is it OK to say ciao in Italy? ›
Ciào has become so informal (some may argue too informal) that you most likely would never have an issue using this word as a greeting while roaming around Italy. The word has lost most, if not all, of its negative connotation and is one of the most widely accepted greetings in the world!What does ciao Bella mean? ›
What does ciao bella mean? Ciao bella is an informal Italian expression literally meaning “goodbye (or hello), beautiful.”What does ciao Amore Mio mean? ›
= Hi, my love!What is the difference between Ciao and Arrivederci? ›
As we've seen, the main difference between ciao and arrivederci lies in the degree of formality that is conveyed by the speaker. Ciao is used in informal situations between close friends and family, whereas arrivederci should be used with everyone else if you want to play it safe.How do you reply to buongiorno? ›
I'd say that as a rule of thumb you should use the greeting that a person has chosen when addressing you. In other words, if they say “Buongiorno” reply in the same manner and if the say “Ciao” follow their lead too. When you have to greet someone first rather be too formal than too casual.