Italian Language Blog

Ciao! Salve! Posted by on Oct 22, 2008 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!

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  1. Nathan Maulorico:

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

  2. natasha:

    Great post.

  3. frank:

    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:

    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.

    • Serena:

      @Chiavaio 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

  5. Lesley-Anne:

    Was in the Veneto region recently and was visiting a local street market, one of the vendors said ‘Salve’ to me.
    Thought it a very pleasant salutation.

    • Geoff:

      @Lesley-Anne Salve Lesley-Anne, e grazie per il tuo commento! Geoff e Serena 🙂

  6. Sergilomhi:


  7. Italian shoes womens:

    I love everything Italian. Especially shoes. The language however has been difficult for me to pickup. Thanks for helping me to get more insight into the language!

  8. Victoria Squirlock:

    thank you for this!

  9. Danny Gabbi:

    A gentleman email me back and said salve puo what does that mean

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