Hey Linguists!: "Good Night" as a greeting

While helping a friend practice speaking English, one of the things I had to impress upon her was that we don’t use “Good Night” as a greeting. We only using when parting company, ending a conversation, or when we are ready to go to bed.

It was strange to her when I explained that an emcee greeting an audience at 10pm would say “Good Evening” when it was clearly no longer evening. I told her that, even very late at night, a greeter or server at a restaurant would welcome guests with “Good Evening” and would say “Good Night” when the guest was ready to leave. I explained that in some circles “Good Evening” would sound too formal used among friends, as an alternative to “Good Evening” friends may just use “Hello”, “Hi”, or “Yo! S’up Dawg?” but would only say “Good Night” when their time spent together had come to an end.

Having worked in Hotels for a number of years I hear this from international guests all the time. Very often when I answer the phone at night and the international caller on the other end of the line will say “Good Night, I would like to make a reservation.”

So I have two questions:

Are there any places in the English speaking world where “Good Night” is used as a greeting?

Are there languages besides English that only use their corresponding phrase for “Good Night” when parting company, never as a greeting?

Slightly off-topic: Is there an antonym (in English) for “greeting”? A word to describe phrases like “Good Night”, “Goodbye”, “See ya later”, “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out”?

Farewell or valediction.

Not necessarily. How long the “evening” lasts is a matter of dialect. Some regions regard the evening as synonymous with afternoon, and thus ending around nightfall. But in most places, the evening includes the early night, and doesn’t end until bedtime or midnight.

The french equivalent “bonne nuit” is only used when parting company.

I’ pretty sure tha tScottish Gaelic uses “Fasgair màth”(good evening) and “Oidche mhàth” (ggd night" in the same way as those two are used in English- ie the “Good night” one is only used in a valedictory way.

Dislcaimer, no I’m not reallya Gaelic speaker but have taken some lessons in the past and that is what I recall being taught.)
Likewise I seem to remember that Welsh will only use “nos da” (good night) in a valedictory sense. Long time since I lived there though. :frowning:

I seem to thiunk that German also uses “Guten Abend (evening” and “Gute Nacht” in the same way, but I coudl be wrong.

Celyn’s right about German. What’s your friend’s native language, bienville?

Good night is like ‘goodbye for the night.’ Goodbye is when you’re not going to see someone for a while. With ‘good night,’ at least one of you will shortly be unconscious for several hours, so you’re saying goodbye for the night. You don’t say goodbye because they’renot going away for a long time, just for the night.

This might help your friend understand the conecpt:

‘Good bye, see you tomorrow!’ - good sentence
‘Good night, see you tomorrow!’ - good sentence
‘Good evening, see you tomorrow!’ - bad sentence

‘Good night, sleep well.’ - good sentence
‘Good evening, sleep well.’ - bad sentence

‘Good night.’ Said in bed to your partner - good sentence
‘Good bye.’ Said in bed to your partner - bad sentence

‘Night’ is a confusing concept in English. Like you said, ‘evening’ can mean all the time after dark till you sleep. However, if you ask ‘what did you do last night?’ you don’t just mean the sleeping time! ‘Last night’ includes the evening!

“Good Night” is short for “may you have a good night.” It’s something you would say to someone before they go to bed. Hence it’s a parting remark.

Where do you live?


eve·ning (ēv’nĭng)

  1. The period of decreasing daylight between afternoon and night.
  2. The period between sunset or the evening meal and bedtime: a quiet evening at home.
  3. A later period or time: in the evening of one’s life.
  4. Chiefly Southern U.S. The time from noon to twilight.

I use definition #2. And most commonly to mean that period between twilight and midnight. And considering at this time of year sunset where I live happens at 9:19 PM, 10 PM is just early evening. Are you perhaps from the Southern US? I’d never, ever call 4 PM “evening”.

To add to the confusion, I know of two instances (in fiction) where “Good morning” (usually a greeting) was used to dismiss someone: Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and Helen Slater as Christie What’s-Her-Name in The Secret of My Success. Fictional, true, but it seems reasonable to believe that this usage has appeared in real life.

I agree, although I cannpt provide a cite. I know, however that I have often enough seen that “Goodmorning” (ending the conversation and parting ffrom the other person, or the other person going away) in “older” books, and I have always just seen it as being an old-fashioned and pretty much defunct usage. I’ve seen something like a parting “good day to you” also used.

One example of “good night” as a greeting that I came across was on an Irish TV advert against drink-driving, from about 25 years ago. In the ad, we see a suspected drunk driver being stopped on the road late at night, and when he winds down the window the Garda greets him with the words “good night”. I remember thinking it was strange, because “good night” usually means “goodbye”, but I can accept that at 2:30 in the morning, it may be the only reasonable choice.

I was skimming the examples until I got to this one. :smiley:

Spanish- from Costa Rica

Although, when I get “Good Night” as a greeting from international guests calling the hotel I get it with both “vague non-English speaking European” accents and “vague non-English speaking Asian” accents.

I wish I could give a comprehensive list of who (by nationality) tends to get it right and who tends to make the mistake, but I haven’t made any Scientific documentation. It’s just something that I notice from time to time, and it’s not uncommon.

So the Costa Rican is the only one I can tell you for sure. From the posts to this Thread it seems that the French and the Germans are probably not candidates for this particular mistake.

Anyone have suggestions as to other folks who may be confused by our use of “Good Night” vs. “Good Evening”?

My use of “evening” depends on the context. Like Axel said, even at 11pm I’d say “How are you this evening?” but in the morning I’d say “What did you do last night?” referring to the person’s active and awake hours.

If you want to know what time of day I consider to be evening, outside a specific context it’s pretty vague and I don’t think I could give you a better definition than “between afternoon and night”.

Certainly the time of year would affect the concept but I think I would mostly consider evening as a time of day to be after dinner but before it’s dark outside- of course in the middle of winter it’s dark outside way before dinner and in the summertime it may not get dark until very late (comparitively).

I think in many ways the concept of “Evening” is a variable social concept.

I’ve noticed in Romance languages and Turkish people saying their farewells for the night by saying “Good evening.” Bonsoir/Buona sera/Buenas tardes/İyi akşamlar. Something Mediterranean at work here, perhaps.

Apparently you’re supposed to keep on saying “Good evening” until it gets really late. Midnight, I suppose, then you can start to say “Good night.” But in Spain, where I’ve heard dinner sometimes isn’t served until 1:00 in the morning, I imagine the evening/night conceptual boundary can go quite a bit later.

Come to think of it, it’s really late now. Gotta go to bed. Good night.

A slight modification on the OP, was there ever a time when good night was used as a greeting in English?

hibernicus gave an affirmative answer to that question from Ireland.

You know what, they say “Good evening” in Arabic (Masá al-khayr), but I’ve never heard anyone say “Good night” in Arabic. That phrase doesn’t exist. Well, you could say “It’ll be a good night when we’re finally alone together, darling,” but they don’t say “Good night” as leave taking. Instead, it’s usually a regular leave taking phrase like Ma‘a salâmah ‘[Go] with safety’.

They do say “Good night” in Romance languages and Turkish — Bonne nuit/Buona notte/Buenas noches/İyi geceler — but the rules for when to use which phrase don’t seem very clear cut everywhere. In İstanbul I heard people taking leave of one another about 10:30 at night by saying İyi akşamlar (Good evening), but here in America my Turkish friend says “Good night” (İyi geceler) to me in the early evening or late afternoon, like when we were working together. She grew up in America and has probably taken on the American custom of talking, even when using Turkish.

Yeah, I read that but wasn’t sure if it may have been some sort of attempt at humor in the commercial. I seemed to recall that good night use to be used as a greeting at that hour and wondered if anyone knew of a cite.

These days I’m working with another Turkish woman and just now when it was time to quit work and go home she said to me “İyi akşamlar” (good evening). So I mentioned my other co-worker who said “İyi geceler” (good night) when getting off of work, and asked about this. She said there are no definite rules. It depends on the social class and upbringing: middle and upper class people say “good evening” later into the night, while rural people from the provinces say “good night” earlier. Maybe it has to do with an earlier bedtime down on the farm. As for my other Turkish co-worker, who is as cosmopolitan and urban as you can get (family from İstanbul, grew up in New York City), I guess she has simply adopted the American way of talking, albeit in the Turkish language.

The next thing I need to understand about Turkish is why they put all these phrases into the plural. They’re literally saying “good evenings, good nights.” The same goes for “good day,” iyi günler, literally ‘good days’. Maybe they’re implying that this wish of goodness is not limited to today alone, but for all days. Kind of nice that way, isn’t it?

As a slightly related note, in Russian the word for “night” generally refers to the time when everybody already went to bed. So until around midnight it’s “evening”. If you’re still up after midnight, you’d still refer to it as “evening” even though the time would be “1 at night”.

In Russian, there’s no “Good night” as a greeting or farewell. There’s “Calm night” which is equivalent to “Sweet dreams” and used as sort of a farewell when going to bed(but generally when not leaving). You would use “Good evening” as both greeting and farewell when talking to people coming or going, even at 1AM.

No, from the context it was clear that the script-writer considered “good-night” to be a greeting.

Look what Google turned up about the use of “good night” in Belizean English: