basic spanish phrases

40 Basic Spanish Phrases for Surviving Most Any Situation

Maybe you’ve just booked your plane ticket to Puerto Rico, Argentina or Spain?

Perhaps you’ve got a new group of Spanish-speaking co-workers at the office?

Or maybe you just want to impress the waitress at your favorite Mexican restaurant?

Whatever your situation, the unfortunate truth is that there’s no way to speak Spanish fluently overnight. Getting to this level involves hard work, and there’s no way to achieve true fluency without putting in the hours.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any first steps you can take towards learning Spanish today, nor that the most important basic Spanish phrases for communication are out of your reach.

There are first steps you can take, and basic Spanish phrases are completely within your reach.

In fact, the simple Spanish phrases you’ll need to begin your journey are right here!

So the only question now is… what are you waiting for?

40 Survival Spanish Phrases for Basic, Everyday Situations

Spanish Greetings

basic spanish phrases

  • Hola The most basic of Spanish greetings, this one means simply “hi” or “hello.”
  • Buenos días – This phrase means “good morning” and is a polite way to great people before noontime.
  • Buenas tardes – Meaning “good afternoon,” this is a common pleasantry between noon and sundown.
  • Buenas noches – Unlike in English, where “goodnight” is generally used to say “goodbye,” buenas noches is a common greeting after nightfall in Spanish.
  • ¿Cómo está usted? – This is the formal way to ask how someone is doing, and is appropriate to use with people older than you, superiors at work or school, or even with strangers on the street.
  • ¿Cómo estás? – This, on the other hand, is an informal way to ask the same question. You can use this phrase when speaking with friends, co-workers, or family—just maybe not your in-laws!
  • ¿Qué tal? – This is an even more familiar and casual way to ask how someone is doing, similar to the phrase “What’s up?” in English.

Though these are certainly all the Spanish greetings you’ll need to get the ball rolling, there are many more ways to get a conversation started in the Spanish language. For some additional ideas, go ahead and check out this post.

Excuse Me!

basic spanish phrases

When you’re speaking a new language, plenty of miscommunications and the occasional social faux pas are bound to occur.

Because of this, learning how to say “excuse me” should be at the top of your list! Spanish has three main ways to say “excuse me,” and each one works a bit differently. Let’s take a look:

  • Con permiso – Literally meaning “with your permission,” this is the “excuse me” to use if you’re trying to navigate past someone in a public space or if you’d like to dismiss yourself from some sort of group situation. Note that this is primarily used in Latin America.
  • Disculpe – This is a good way to politely get someone’s attention, or to apologize in advance for being a bit of a bother.
  • Perdón – This is the word you’re going to want to use if you’re actually apologizing for something you’ve done—spilling your drink on somebody, for example.

In Spain, you’ll most often use perdón for any of the above situations, as well as the informal perdona and the formal perdone.

Feeling Lost?

basic spanish phrases

If you’re headed to a Spanish-speaking country without a firm grasp on the language, one of the worst feelings you might encounter is that of being lost.

That said, with just a little bit of effort and the right vocabulary, you’re bound to be surprised by the warmth and friendliness even of strangers throughout Hispanic and Latino cultures:

  • ¿Dónde está…? – This is the building block of your “I’m lost” vocabulary; it means “Where is…?” Then it’s up to you to fill in the blank!
  • ¿Dónde está mi hotel? – This one is useful if you’ve got una dirección (an address) or at least a name on hand; it’ll help you find your way to your hotel.
  • ¿Dónde hay un banco? – If you’re looking for a nearby bank, this is the question to ask.
  • ¿Dónde hay un cajero automático? – On the other hand, if you only need an ATM machine, you might want to go with this question instead.
  • ¿Dónde hay un restaurante? – If you’re in search of a place to eat, this is how to ask for a restaurant.
  • ¿Dónde hay un hospital? – Hopefully this one won’t be necessary, but if you need to find a hospital, this is how to do it.
  • ¿Dónde puedo encontrar…? – This phrase means “Where can I find…?” If you’re looking for something that may not have an exact location, this is a more sensible way to phrase your question.
  • ¿Dónde puedo encontrar un taxi? – If you need to find a taxi, this is a simple way to ask where to go.
  • ¿Dónde puedo encontrar a un policía? – Hopefully this one won’t be necessary either, but if you need to talk to the authorities, this is the way to find a policeman.

These phrases are a great start, but of course they’re just the tip of the iceberg as far as Spanish travel phrases go. For a great article exploring the topic in closer detail, check out the post over here.

Eating Out

basic spanish phrases

Whether in another country or at the ethnic restaurant down the block, dining out at a restaurant, cafe or bar is an excellent opportunity to put your Spanish skills to work. Here are a few phrases that you’ll absolutely need to know when eating out in a Spanish-speaking setting:

  • Tengo una reservación. – Meaning “I have a reservation,” this can be useful whether you’ve been planning this dinner for weeks or are simply practicing your skills as a B.S. artist as well.
  • De tomar, quiero/quisiera… – “To drink, I would like…” Simple enough!
  • De entrada, quiero/quisiera… – If you’re eating out at a nice place, you’re probably starting with appetizers. This phrase means “For my appetizer, I would like…”
  • Como plato principal, quiero/quisiera… – Can you guess what this one means? “As a main course, I would like…” (Were you right? Great job!)
  • Yo soy vegetariano. – Vegetarianism throughout the Spanish-speaking world can be viewed with a bit of skepticism, so if you don’t eat meat be sure to declare “I’m vegetarian” very clearly! And then add…
  • No como… – “I don’t eat…” You can follow this up with carne (meat) for example, or any other dietary restriction you might have.
  • ¡Salud! – The Spanish version of a simple “cheers,” be sure to give a hearty salud when the drinks arrive. Fun fact: this word also means “health” in Spanish.
  • ¡Al centro y pa’ dentro! – If you’re out with friends and indulging in a few shots perhaps, this fun rhyming phrase literally meaning “to the center and gulp it down.” It’s a popular way to accompany a group toast.

These are just the bare-bone basics when it comes to eating out in a Spanish-language setting, so as you prepare for the big meal make sure to check out another post exploring Spanish restaurant vocabulary in more detail at this link.

Gone Shopping

basic spanish phrases

A few basic Spanish phrases will always help to make your shopping trips go more smoothly, but depending on where you are they could also help you save some serious cash!

As a general rule of thumb throughout the Spanish-speaking world, haggling is frowned upon or straight-up disallowed in most brick and mortar stores, but welcomed and even expected in most outdoor marketplaces.

Here are a few phrases to get you started:

  • ¿Puedo probarme…? – If you’re shopping for clothes or accessories, use this phrase followed by an article of clothing to ask if you can try it on. Of course, gestures will also help in a pinch!
  • ¿Hasta qué hora está abierto? – If you see something you like but don’t feel like carrying it around all day, this phrase might come in handy. It means “Until what time are you open?”
  • ¿Qué precio tiene…? – If the price of an item is unmarked, you can use this phrase to ask for a (starting) price and to prepare your bargaining strategy.
  • ¿Es el mejor precio que me da? – This phrase basically says to the merchant “Is that the best price you can do?” Asking this, feigning disinterest, and beginning to walk away can often lower prices seemingly by magic!
  • Puedo darle… – Use this phrase, which translates into “I can give you,” to offer a price on an item you’re bargaining for.

Shopping and bargaining, especially in certain parts of Latin America, can become something of a competitive sport, so these are only the basic phrases to get you started. That said, they should certainly prove useful if you’re going shopping while abroad.

Help!

basic spanish phrases

If you’re in need, there’s never any shame in asking others for help. In fact, sometimes speaking up is the bravest thing that you can do. Here are three Spanish-language phrases that will come in handy should the need ever arise:

  • Necesito ayuda. – Short and to the point, this phrase simply means “I need help.”
  • ¿Usted habla inglés? – If you’re in a situation where asking for help is necessary, there’s probably some explaining that you’re going to have to do. Use this phrase to ask if someone speaks English.
  • ¿Dónde puedo encontrar a alguien que hable inglés? – This is a longer one, but it’s included because it’s important. It means “Where can I find someone who speaks English?”

Hopefully your Spanish-speaking experience will go off without these phrases becoming necessary, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Thanks, See Ya Later!

basic spanish phrases

No matter what kind of interaction you’ve had, it’s always good to be polite and to say goodbye. That’s why you should always be sure to end your conversations with one or more of the basic Spanish phrases below:

  • Gracias – You probably already knew how to say “thank you” in Spanish, but this is just a quick reminder that politeness is appreciated even more in Hispanic and Latino cultures. Say it, and say it a lot!
  • Adiós Another common word, adiós simply means “goodbye.” And here’s a fun fact: Adiós is actually a compound of the Spanish words a and dios, literally meaning “Go with God!”
  • Hasta luego – Seeing a person later on, most likely on the same day? Then go with hasta luego, or “see you later.”
  • Hasta mañana – This one means “See you tomorrow,” and you can probably figure out when to use it.
  • Nos vemos – This phrase, basically meaning “See you,” is a friendly and familiar way to depart—whether or not you know when you’ll next be meeting the person!

So that’s it—the first 40 phrases to start you off on your Spanish-language journey!

Now it’s time to plot your next steps: choosing a textbook, studying easy, basic grammar lessons, exploring the present tense and the list goes on. Just stay patient, keep motivated and soon you’ll be speaking Spanish like a pro.


Jim Dobrowolski is a freelance writer, a passionate language learner and the proud husband of a dentist from Mexico. When he’s not working or blogging at Spanish Learner Central, he might be found strumming a guitar, climbing a small mountain or exploring his newly adopted hometown of Buffalo, New York.

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