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Goodnight or Good Evening? Posted by on Apr 17, 2012 in Culture, English Language, English Vocabulary

I was recently walking down the street around 7:00pm and a non-native English speaker said to me “Goodnight.”  I replied back to him, “good evening.”  This started me thinking about the important difference between the use of these two phrases “goodnight*” and “good evening” in English. It is important to know what each means in order to use each properly and so that you can say exactly what you intend.  Here is a general rule about these two similar but different greetings:

 

Goodnight = a phrase one uses at the end of the day or evening when one leaves someone for the last time for the day or when one goes to bed.  This is essentially a way of saying “goodbye.”  (Note: it is very uncommon for Americans to say “goodbye” when they are going to bed, they will most likely say “goodnight.”)

Good evening = a greeting often used in the evening, after approximately 5:00-6:00pm.  This greeting is used similarly to “good morning” or “good afternoon.” This is a greeting to be used when meeting someone or passing by someone.  This is essentially a way of saying “hello.” This phrase is generally not used when taking leave of someone although the similar phrase “have a good evening” can be used when leaving someone for the last time in a 24 hour period of time in the evening or night time.

Here is a little dialogue to help clarify the difference.

Clem: Good evening Terry, have you had dinner yet?
Terry: Hi Clem, no I haven’t, but I have too much work to do to go out to dinner.
Clem:  That’s too bad.  I was hoping you would join me for a bite to eat.
Terry: I’m sorry I can’t this evening.
Clem: Well, good luck with all your work.  Goodnight.
Terry: Thank you. Goodnight, enjoy your dinner.

*”Goodnight” is often also spelled “good night”, though it is my understanding that goodnight (as one word) is the proper form of the word as a greeting.  Sometimes this greeting is also written as “good-night.” These three versions all generally have the same meaning.

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.


Comments:

  1. daus othman:

    The two greetings brought different meaning. So,try 2 understand when the two used based on time n condition

  2. Malachuse:

    Thanks for this post. I am a non-native speaker of english and I really wanted to understand the difference of this two greetings.

  3. Flavio:

    I still have a doubt. If I meet someone around 09:00 pm, do I have to say good evening?

    • Gabriele:

      @Flavio Flavio,
      Yes, that is the most common greeting to say at night. Even if it is late in the night, i.e. 9pm, you should still say good evening. Goodnight means ‘good bye’ and good evening means ‘hello’.
      -Gabriele

  4. Nurali Lakhani:

    Unfortunately I have a bad habit of saying goodnight even in the morning if that is the last meeting –howcome nobody has said any thing about that to me or is it allright

    • Gabriele:

      @Nurali Lakhani Nurali,
      That is a good questions – I don’t know why your misuse of the term goodnight has never been mentioned to you before. Maybe it is out of politeness that no one has corrected you. “Goodnight” is definitely a term reserved for use only at night, that is, it is incorrect to use “goodnight” in the morning.
      At least now you know!
      -Gabriele

  5. haslinda:

    Hi, I am not a native English speaker. I want to know how or when to use good afternoon and good evening. Is there any specific time frame to use along?

    • Gabriele:

      @haslinda Haslinda,
      The defining line between afternoon and evening is tricky and not everyone sees it the same way. Generally speaking though before 4:00-5:00pm is afternoon and after 5:00pm is evening.
      So, you can use “good afternoon” from 11am-noon up until 4-5pm and then use “good evening” after that.
      I hope that helps,
      Gabriele

  6. Baiano:

    What about the use of “Good day” because often a time people do use “Good day” in the email greeting from 07:00am to 05:00pm.

    Is is grammatically incorrect to use Good day or it is “neutral” that it can be used to avoid the possible confusion revolving around the use of “Good afternoon and Good evening”?

    I am not an English native speaker as well.

    Please advise.

    • Gabriele:

      @Baiano Baiano,
      Good day can be used as a greeting anytime of day, although it may be best to only use it (in person) when it is light outside (so depending on what time of year it is that time may change). If it is dark outside it would be better to use good evening as a greeting. In an email it is fine to use the greeting good day anytime of day.
      Good day can, at times, also be used as closing to a conversation. In this case it is almost always used in anger, as a way up punctuating and ending a conversation. For example:
      A: I think you are being ridiculous.
      B: I am not, you are being unreasonable.
      A: Well, good day to you sir, I am done talking about this.

      -Gabriele

  7. prince john bude:

    lm a Zimbabwean l love tricks abt English

  8. Ali:

    Hi there. First, I should thank you for your generosity.
    I have one essential difficulty with learning English: I have no idea how should I deeply learn the different meanings of a word or a phrasal verb. For example, the verb “get in” has several meanings, but I only know one of its meanings. You know, I think it’s completely confusing trying to memorize them one by one. This method doesn’t really work. So what’s the answer?!

  9. Deepak:

    My office timing is 12am in night what is the peoper greeting at that time good evening or anything else