Using Polite Expressions in Spanish in 15 Common Scenarios
If we may—por favor and gracias—let’s sit down and talk polite expressions in Spanish.
In any culture and language, we use expressions socially as a way of consideration and respect for others.
In Latin culture, as well as within each individual country, many particular polite expressions in Spanish exist, and are perhaps more frequently used than in English.
As a guest in traveling to a foreign country or when speaking in a foreign language to a native Spanish-speaker, you may want to present yourself as conscientious to the customs of the language.
Being friendly while including specific terms of consideration and respect can go miles in good will, even in making up for a limited vocabulary.
You will also be more aware of how someone is being respectful and considerate of you, so that you can feel even more welcome.
So let’s take a trip through the basic expressions in Spanish around politeness.
How Do You Say Polite and Impolite in Spanish?
The word “polite” may best be translated as being respectful—and for this, you can say both educado/a or cortés.
The word educado/a also means having good manners or having been raised with good manners, and the word also refers to considerate or well-groomed behavior.
Necesitas ser cortés mientras visitas la familia de tu esposo.
You need to be polite while visiting your husband’s family.
El hombre educado le dio su silla a la abuela.
The polite man gave his seat to the grandmother.
Further, the expression in Spanish for a person who has good manners is buena educación or buenos modales.
La mujer tiene buena educación.
The woman has good manners.
We can express “impolite” as both maleducado/a and descortés—and again, when someone displays disrespectful or inconsiderate behavior, they are being maleducado/a.
Es descortés masticar con la boca abierta.
It’s impolite to chew with your mouth open.
¡Que maleducada! Ella escupió en el tren!
How rude of her! She spit in the train!
Ese niño tiene mala educación.
That boy has poor manners.
So go on—show off your buena educación by learning these expressions in Spanish to be polite!
1) How To Say “You,” Politely
When you talk in second person (using “you”) in Spanish, you must choose among three types of pronouns: informal singular, formal singular, and plural.
- tú (informal singular)
- usted (formal singular)
- ustedes (plural)
Tú expresses familiarity—both casual and informal. Use it when speaking to people who you either know well or who are significantly younger, such as children.
Usted (singular) is an expression of formality while ustedes (plural) is used for anyone whether you’re just meeting or you do know them well.
Usted is the appropriate choice for business meetings and social situations, as well as when you’re talking to an elder or senior.
In time, by developing a familiar relationship with someone, you ultimately switch from usted to tú, but generally speaking, you begin more formally with usted.
Usted tiene una sonrisa hermosa.
You have a beautiful smile.
Usted vende los boletos en su oficina?
Do you sell the tickets in your office?
Usted vive en un barrio fascinante.
You live in a fascinating neighborhood.
2) Polite Expressions in Spanish Upon Meeting
Your first opportunity to show that you’re an individual bien educada is in your introductions.
When you are formally introduced to someone or they present themselves to you, you can say mucho gusto (nice to meet you).
The common response to this is igualmente (likewise) or el gusto es mío (the pleasure is mine).
And if you wish to express a particular delight, reply encantado/a (charmed) in Spain or muchísimo gusto in Latin America.
3) Polite Expressions in Spanish For Time of Day
While passing by friendly faces, or before launching into any conversation or question, it’s both expected and educado to first wish someone a good day—depending on the time of day.
Good afternoon—from midday onward.
Good night—once the sun goes down.
When addressing elderly men or women whom you may meet, use Don (Mr.) and Doña (Mrs) to show extra regard, ideally with a first name.
Buenas tardes, Doña Lucia.
Good afternoon, Mrs. Lucy.
4) How to Say “Please” and “Thank You”
We all know the politeness trinity of “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome,” and it’s no different in Spanish.
Por favor, pasa la sopa.
Please pass the soup.
Gracias por venir a mi casa.
Thank you for coming to my house.
If you’re incredibly grateful, try muchas gracias or muchísimas gracias.
The word “gratitude” or “thanks” itself is la gratitud or el agradacimiento.
No puedo expresar suficientemente mi agradecimiento por tu tiempo.
I can’t express enough my gratitude for your time.
5) Polite Expressions in Spanish For Enjoying A Meal
Whenever you pass by or participate with those eating a meal, it’s typical to wish enjoyment and delight.
If you’re passing by construction workers on their lunch break or sitting down with family to eat, you say buen provecho, which means “enjoy the meal!”
The term provecho literally means “may the food go down well, or be of benefit to you.”
And it’s also enough to also say ¡provecho!
Sometimes, everyone at the table will even say it to each other.
¡Que rica! or ¡Que sabrosa! are polite expressions in Spanish to tell your host that the food is delicious and flavorful.
6) Polite Expressions in Spanish For Making A Request
To be polite in English, you might opt for “Could I have a piece of pizza, please?” over “Can I have a piece of pizza?”
This technique is used similarly In Spanish. Soften your requests by using the conditional form of the verb.
¿Se puede comer acá?
May I eat here?
¿Podría guardar mi estuche en tu casilla?
Could I keep my pencil case in your cubbyhole?
¿Podrías prestarme tu lápiz?
Could you lend me your pencil?
¿Podría tener un minuto más?
May I have one minute more?
¿Podría tener un pedazo de pizza, por favor?
May I have a piece of pizza, please?
¿Podrías prestarle 100 pesos a mi hermana, por favor?
Could you lend my sister 100 pesos please?
7) Polite Expressions in Spanish For Expressing Want
“I would like another portion, please” is very different to “I want another portion.”
When it comes to asking for what you want, a huge difference exists between making requests and stating demands, in Spanish too.
To do so, use quisiera instead of quiero.
Quisiera probar el pastel de chocolate.
I’d like to try the chocolate cake.
¿Quisieras ir al cine conmigo?
Would you like to go to the movies with me?
Ella quisiera una porción más, por favor.
She would like another portion, please.
¿Quisieras decorar el árbol de navidad conmigo?
Would you like to decorate the Christmas tree with me?
8) Expressions in Spanish For Asking “How Are You?”
In respect to others, you will often ask how someone is doing when beginning a polite conversation. Many expressions in Spanish exist to ask “how are you?” or “how’s it going?”
- ¿Cómo está? (formal)
- ¿Cómo estás?
- ¿Cómo está usted? (formal)
- ¿Comó le va?
- ¿Qué tal?
- ¿Qué pasó? or ¿Qué pasa?
- ¿Qué onda? (Mexico)
9) Expressions in Spanish For Asking Permission
When entering into someone else’s space—or when passing closely by someone—you commonly ask permission in Spanish.
As formal as it may sound in English, it’s absolutely common in Latin America.
With your permission?
And, of course, the request requires a response:
Páse or Pásele
Come in, or pass through
It’s all yours.
Who is it?
10) Expressions in Spanish For Excusing or Apologizing
Similar to English, you may wish to excuse yourself as you pass by or depart the table, or when you interrupt.
The Spanish words perdón and disculpe are perfect for these moments.
If you have actually made a mistake or error, and wish to make an apology, then you will want to say you are sorry.
11) Polite Expression in Spanish For Helping Others
While “at your service” seems reserved for a concierge at a fancy hotel, it’s a common phrase to hear in Spanish when you enter or depart a store.
Para servirle means at your service, as does a su orden.
In some countries, you may be asked ¿Cómo puedo ayudarle? or ¿En qué puedo servirle? (How can I help you?)
12) Polite Expressions in Spanish For Clarifying
You may not be able to always keep up with the fast-talking native speakers around you when you’re learning Spanish—and it’s poor manners to go around saying ¿Qué? all the time (just as it would be in English to say “What?”)
Luckily, and particularly in Mexico, you have a polite and simple way to ask someone to please repeat themselves.
What did you just say?
13) Polite Expressions in Hospitality
When you are a guest in a house, or even in a family hotel, don’t be surprised if you’re welcomed to consider the house as your own.
Mi casa es su casa (my house is your house) is a manner of treating guests like part of the family in Spanish-speaking countries.
In fact, you may even find that when invited to visit the house of a friend, they invite you to tu casa, or your home.
A common greeting when arriving to a friend’s home is ¡Bienvenido/a a tu casa! (welcome to your home).
Your host may also wish you to feel comfortable, and here we have an English equivalent that is not literal but has the same meaning:
Estás en tu casa.
Please make yourself at home.
14) Polite Expressions in Spanish to Say Goodbye
In Spanish, it’s customary and sweet to wish someone well as they say goodbye.
Que te vaya bien.
May it go well with you.
Que les vaya bien.
May it go well with you all.
Que tenga un lindo dia.
May you have a beautiful day.
15) Polite Expressions in Spanish After Sneezing
Finally, it’s typical in English to bless someone after they sneeze. This particular bodily reaction beckons our blessing. Well, it’s even more fun and particular in Spanish!
When someone sneezes, you say salud, or health—which is to say you’re wishing them health.
But if they sneeze more than once, then it’s time to start showering them with blessings!
- First sneeze: ¡Salud! (health)
- Second sneeze: ¡Dinero! (money)
- Third sneeze: ¡Amor! (love)
- Fourth sneeze: get creative!
As a serial sneezer, many have wished me peace (¡paz!) on the fourth.
In return, thank someone for their kind blessings with gracias.
Put Politeness into Practice!
From how you address someone (usted) to how you ask for the salt to how you respond to a sneeze, you’ve got plenty of expressions in Spanish to reveal yourself as polite and considerate.
Perhaps more than in English, you have the opportunity to demonstrate that you have buenos modales.
You’ll be hard-pressed to overkill politeness when it comes to expressions in Spanish—after all, politeness is not the same as formality.
However, you also can’t begin master expressions in Spanish around politeness without engaging in conversation. By talking with a native Spanish-speaker, you will soon be able to express yourself politely with ease.
Sign up for a free class to begin practicing!
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