Ciao! Salve!

Posted on 22. Oct, 2008 by in Culture, Grammar

 Ciao is probably the best known Italian greeting in the world. It’s an informal form used at any time of the day, both when you meet and when you leave somebody (it means “hello” as well as “goodbye”). However, as it’s informal you shouldn’t use ciao in a formal situation, i.e. when you use Lei.

But this wasn’t always the case, the word ciao has a Venetian origin, and it comes from s-ciao, which in turns comes from s-ciavo, short for [sono vostro] schiavo (lit. I am your slave!).

 On the other hand salve is probably the least known Italian greeting (we never teach it to our students of Italian!) but a very useful one indeed. Salve comes from the Latin verb salvere (lit. to be well, to be in good health). It can be very friendly, e.g. Salve! Come va? (lit. Hi! How’s it going?), but on its own it’s also a polite form of greeting without being too formal. It’s very commonly used as a form of salutation, (in fact the word salutation itself comes from the same root: salute). So for example when you are out walking in the countryside and you meet somebody you don’t know salve is a very good alternative to buongiorno. Like ciao, salve can be used at any time of the day, but salve cannot be used when parting.

 So, now it’s time for me to say….CIAO!

5 Responses to “Ciao! Salve!”

  1. Nathan Maulorico 22 October 2008 at 5:08 pm #

    that was a good way to sum the meanings up, sometimes it hard to explain.

  2. natasha 22 October 2008 at 9:51 pm #

    Great post.

  3. frank 5 November 2008 at 11:18 pm #

    thank you.
    i read somewhere that salve dates back to caesar’s time.
    that got me thinking it was archaic or something.
    lol thank you for explaining what it means.
    =]

  4. Chiavaio 9 November 2011 at 9:45 am #

    It might be helpful to include what appropriate responses to ‘Salve’ would be. I’ve noticed that Italians use ‘salve’ in instances where they are weren’t expecting to encounter someone (like in your example), but what options does the other person have? Can they respond with ‘salve’? Can they respond with ‘buon giorno/buona sera’ instead? Some clarification on this point would be helpful and would be appreciated.

  5. Serena 9 November 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Salve Chiavaio,

    The example I actually gave in my post was:

    when you are out walking in the countryside and you meet somebody you don’t know salve is a very good alternative to buongiorno

    . Ciao is only used with family and friends. Salve is a simple greeting to be used with formal acquaintances or strangers. You can reply to salve with salve, or with boungiorno/buonasera depending on the time of day.

    Saluti da Serena


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