A1 Level. How to Be Polite in Spanish: Essential Phrases and Tips

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

Early on in Spanish you have learned that when you are introduced to people you say,

Mucho gusto for nice to meet you. When you shake hands, if the other person says "mucho gusto" (nice to meet you) first, it is acceptable to reply: "igualmente" (likewise) or "el gusto es mío" (the pleasure is mine). You are showing good manners in Spanish with these phrases. You can also use the response:"encantado" (nice meeting you), if you're a man. "encantada" if you're a woman.

Often when a native speaker extends his hand to greet you, other than just saying his name you may hear: "Carlos Vargas Lorca, a sus ordenes". or "Alberto Santos Ruiz para servirle".

This is often said very quickly, especially when children introduce themselves. It can sound like a string of words until the end when you can just barely make out something about " ordenes" or "servirle". Those two phrases basically mean "at your service". Again these normal protocol phrases show that they are being polite in Spanish.

When the person says their two last names, the first is the father's last name, the second is the mother's. So Señor Vargas, and Señor Santos, is how you would address these men (from the previous examples) in a formal situation. Let's see an example.

In an informal situation (and if they are older men) you might address them as "Don Carlos" or "Don Alberto". "Don" is a friendly term of respect used with older men. It is combined with the first name only, not the last name. "Doña" is used with women.

Coming from an informal culture such as the one of the United States, some of these phrases may see a little extravagant or too elegant. However, they are phrases that are typically accepted or expected in normal conversation. You will be considered polite in Spanish, not exaggerated.

Politeness phrases that require a response


The first example in this group of polite phrases in Spanish is saying"¡salud!" This is said when somebody sneezes. The person who sneezed should politely respond with, "Gracias".

This little social exchange can be taken very seriously. One can be on a crowded bus and if you sneeze, several people may say "¡Salud!", not just the person next to you. It is correct for you to respond, with a "¡Gracias!" that is loud enough to be heard so that they know you acknowledged their "¡Salud!" Likewise, you will then be acknowledged in their minds a person who knows how to be polite in Spanish, since they were expecting to hear the Gracias!"

On a lighter note, if a person is sneezing in succession, for the first sneeze, one will hear "¡Salud!" for the second, one might hear: Dinero!", and for the third sneeze, one will hear "¡Amor!"

You can acknowledge again with, "gracias, gracias, gracias" too. With those three wishes of health, money and love, sometimes you will hear the person who sneezed comment about hoping to be lucky with love.

The terms above salud, dinero, amor though written with exclamation points, aren't necessarily shouted. Depending on the situation and the personality of the person saying it, the words may be spoken quietly or with much exuberance.

Salud!" also means "Cheers! as when toasting before a drink. When you'd like a toast to be done, you say, ¡Un brindis!

When you walk into a room with people, you say:

Buenos días. Good morning.

Buenas tardes. Good afternoon.

When you want to ask for something or for help.

Por favor.  Please

¿Puede ayudarme? Can you help me?

When somebody does something nice for you:

Muchas gracias. Thank you very much.

Es muy amable de su parte. It's very kind of you.

When somebody says: "thank you".

De nada. You're welcome.

When you enter a house that is not your house, and also when you apologize because you need to leave.

Permiso. Excuse me.

If in a crowd and you need to go through.

Con permiso. Excuse me

When you accidentally burp.

Perdón. Sorry.

Dining with Friends and Making Polite Requests

You’re bound to make friends if you travel to a place where Spanish is spoken! And if you make Spanish friends it’s highly likely that you’ll be invited to share a meal.

Politeness is very important when dining, so grab these basic phrases to enhance your experience.

“Buen provecho” (“Bon appetit.”)

“Buen provecho” is said before anyone begins to eat and is simply an all-purpose way to wish everyone at the table a good dining experience.

Expect to hear it whether you’re eating paella in Madrid or tamales in Mexico. I’ve done both, and each time, Buen provecho went around the table from person to person before we began eating.

If you’d like something, feel free to request it! Meals are a great chance to practice making polite requests.

The standard “May I?” works in any situation:

¿Puedo tener…?” (“May I have…?”)

A kind, gentle way to request something is to use quisiera (“I would like”). It’s very polite and much less demanding than Quiero (“I want”), so this is a great addition to anyone’s vocabulary.

Quisiera…” (“I would like…”)

You can also use the verb poder” (to be able) conjugated in the conditional form:

 “Podría…” (“Could I…”)

Podría tener un café, por favor? (“Could I have a coffee, please?”)

Podrías…” (“Could you…” – informal) or “Podría…” (“Could you…” – formal)

¿Podrías/Podría darme la mantequilla? (“Could you give me the butter?”)

Of course, these phrases for making polite requests aren’t just for food-related encounters. You can use them any time you want to ask for something without seeming too demanding.

Saying Good-bye

When you've been introduced to someone, or run into someone you know out on the street, when it's time to say good bye, it's time to extend your hand and shake once more as you take leave. All this handshaking, at greeting and leaving, is the normal way to do things in Mexican culture. To a North American mind, it mind seem redundant and overkill, but it is not seen that way at all in this culture. It is correct manners.

At a party, meeting, gathering, fellowship time

It is correct to go to the hosts of the party and shake their hands good bye, and to also shake the hands of everyone else at the gathering, even when there are a lot of people there. Seriously, the typical casual shout of "Good-bye everybody!" and a big wave to the whole group, is not considered the usual polite way to leave a party.

Phrases such as:

Me despido, gracias por todo.

Tengo que retirarme, gracias por todo.

Are polite ways of saying, "I must leave now, thank you for everything."

An extremely common phrase said by those left at the house or gathering to bid you farewell is "Qué te vaya bien" or "Qué les vaya bien" (may it go well with you, singular or plural). Though you may not have heard this phrase in book learning, it is a real life frequently used farewell phrase.

Let's practice

Listening Activity No. 1: Polite phrases for conversational Spanish

Listen to this episode Francisco y Mari ask people in the streets about basic phrases for being polite in Spanish. Take notes of the information you consider important and listen carefully to identify the vocabulary used. ¡Buena suerte!

Quiz Activity No. 2: Select the option that corresponds to the picture.

Free handout Activity No. 3: Printable material.

Free handout for you to practice. Click the blue button below to DOWNLOAD the free handout. Add your name and email and we’ll send it to you! Remember you can contact your tutor with any question have. Don’t you have a Spanish tutor yet? Please, leave a message if you want we prepare more activities about this topic. Thanks for helping us to improve.

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¡Hasta la vista!

Español Latino Team.

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