The meaning of ciao | How to use this Italian Word


Discover the intriguing roots of the word “ciao” and learn the dos and don’ts of using this iconic Italian greeting to avoid a faux pas in your next Italian encounter!

  • Unpack the past:ciao” evolved from “s-ciào vostro,” meaning “I am your slave,” to a casual “hello” or “goodbye.”
  • Double-duty greeting: Use “ciao” to casually say both “hi” and “bye” among friends or peers. It’s like a Swiss Army knife of salutations! 😎
  • Keep it classy: Avoid “ciao” in formal settings. Instead, opt for “salve“, “buongiorno“, or “buonasera” to show respect.
  • Age matters: Feel free to drop a “ciao” with the younger crowd or buddies, but with elders or strangers, level up your greeting game.
  • Parting ways: Saying goodbye after a wild night with friends? “ciao” is your go-to. But in a professional email or at a fancy dinner, “arrivederci” is the golden ticket.

Still unsure? Head over to our comprehensive list of Italian greetings for the perfect phrase for any scenario. 🇮🇹

My thoughts

Ciao is probably the most famous Italian word outside of Italy. It has spread so much that many other languages have adopted it as a form of greeting.

But what’s the original meaning of ciao? Here’s how this word originated and how you should use it when speaking with Italians.

The original meaning of ciao

The word “ciao” comes from the Venetian expression “s-ciào vostro,which literally means “I am your slave“.

Originally, this phrase was an informal way of expressing goodwill towards another person (much like “at your service” in English). Later on, it was reduced to ciào and lost its original meaning, becoming a common way to greet one another.

Finally, after the unification of Italy, the word ciào spread throughout Northern Italy and, later, across the nation.

Is ciao “hello” or “goodbye”?

Nowadays, ciao is the most common way of saying hi in Italian. It is not a servile expression anymore and is considered a synonym of both “hello” and ”goodbye”.

That’s right: it can be used both when you meet and when you part from someone. However, although it is a very versatile word, there are situations in which you should avoid it.

Common mistakes

Ciao is probably the most common greeting among friends in Italy. However, it’s an informal word, and sometimes it’s better to opt for something else.

One of the most common mistakes made by non-native speakers is to use ciao when they don’t know the person they are talking to.

If you do it, you can sound very unpolite.

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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. You’re writing an email to your Italian boss or waiting to be served at a restaurant? You might want to say buongiorno.

If you don’t know what to do, check our list of Italian greetings and how to say goodbye in Italian.

You’ll find a word for every situation.

Does ciao stand for hello or goodbye?

"Ciao" is the most common Italian greeting and can be used both as "hello" and "goodbye".

What is the meaning of ciao?

The word "ciao" comes from the Venetian expression "s-ciào vostro", which means "I am your slave". Originally, it was used to express goodwill towards another person. Later, it lost its original meaning and became a common way to greet one another.

When do you use ciao in Italian?

"Ciao" is a very versatile greeting as you can use it both to say "hello" and "goodbye". However, you should avoid it on specific occasions. You can use "ciao" when you meet people you already know (friends or relatives) or if you're talking to young people. It is better to avoid it in formal situations or when you don't know the person you're talking to.

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