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Why are buenas noches and buenas tardes said when they refer to only one night/afternoon?

¿Por qué se dice "buenas noches" y "buenas tardes" cuando solo se refieren solo a una noche o tarde?

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why pants when it's only one? – e-MEE Nov 25 '11 at 13:20
@e-MEE It's not really the same, I think... But answering your comment, I found this: – Alenanno Dec 10 '11 at 21:11
@e-MEE We say (par de) pantalones, trousers, and (par de) gafas (glasses), as they can be seen as composed of two parts: two perneras (trouser legs) and two lentes (each of the glasses, pl. of lens). – Lucas Sep 24 '14 at 10:51
I have got two Argentinian friends and they say "buen día". To complete the answers given, please read these two (long) threads from the Centro Virtual Cervantes that discuss this very matter: Sobre «buenos días» y «buen día» and ¿Por qué no decimos ´buen día´?. I find this remark especially interesting: > También debemos tomar en cuenta el "plural expresivo" como en "Felices Pascuas", "saludos a...", "muchas gracias"... – cdlvcdlv Jun 23 at 8:49
up vote 6 down vote accepted

When the person says buenas tardes / noches he/she is wishing to the other person to have not only one, but a few good afternoons or good nights. But still you can use the singular like:

  • tenga usted un buen día.
  • ... una buena tarde para usted también.
  • una buena noche de descanso.

All these point and refer to one day/afternoon/night.

There is also Felices Fiestas (season greetings) used in Christmas. The point is to wish the other more than one day of greetings.

You can clearly say that the common becomes a rule with this one, simply because there is no reference to a rule of why is said in that way.

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Good point about "buenas tardes" and "que tenga una buena tarde". Regarding "Felices Fiestas", although I never asked the question, I always thought that was plural because it referred to Christmas, New Year's Day, and King's Day (several holidays during the same period of time). For the singular on Christmas, you don't have to be Jose Feliciano to know it's "Feliz Navidad". – neizan Aug 2 '13 at 8:42

Unfortunately I can't give you a definite answer yet. But I thought that not posting these two theories would've been a waste, so here they are:

  1. This point is in my opinion the most accredited:

    In this question, In Spanish, why do they say "buenos noches"?, the answerer says it comes from "Buenas noches nos dé Dios", which means "may God give us good nights" (for more than one person).

    I found some references which I consider to be official/trustworthy enough. The first is from this page on "Three-Cornered Hat & Captain Poison (Dual-Language)" by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón and Stanley Appelbaum.

    I spotted the second source when I found this exact quote (i.e. "Buenas noches nos dé Dios") when reading the original version of La casa de Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca. You can see the quote in Google Books.

    About "buenas tardes" and "buenos días", I didn't find anything, but according to this theory, the origin might be similar or even "the same", as a derivation.

  2. Another possibility comes from Latin:

    "The origin of the plural forms as a way of greeting has to be searched in the past. In former times, from the 10th century on, Spanish language began being developed from Latin where formality was a rule when addressing somebody. The plural form of old Spanish vos (plural you) when talking to more than one person seemed to demand a plural in the rest of the sentence parts: “Buenos días guarden a vos”, and the same with tardes and noches. Besides, the fact that in that age people did not run into each other everyday, due to the meagre communication means, wherever they met they said hello for the rest of the week with a plural form rather than a singular."Source (SpanishDict Answers)

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+1 for making the point multiple times that the info so far is not reliable. – hippietrail Nov 23 '11 at 12:36
Yahoo Answers and SpanishDict Answers are just forums -they are not reliable. But thanks for still keeping an eye on it – Theta30 Mar 22 '12 at 20:12
@Theta30 Yes, I'm well aware of it. :P But the first one was more or less confirmed since it does appear in a book (famous one) that has that situation: some people and someone wishing that for everyone. – Alenanno Mar 22 '12 at 22:39
Buenos días os de Dios. Felix, & faustum (?) lume, Iuppicer (?) pluat mel. precor, vt hic dies tibi cabdidus illuceat. Felicem tibi deprecor lucem. (1654, Bartolomé Bravo, Thesaurus Hispano latinus, vtriusque linguae diues opum). Buenos días os de Dios, labradores de mi casa (1865, Eduardo González Pedroso, Autos Sacramentales.) La definición latina no la entiendo del todo, pero es casi un rezo para que tengas buen clima para la siembra o la cosecha. Lo que antes era esencial. Quizás por esos era también "bonus dies" en latín, aunque curiosamente sólo se ha conservado en el español. – Fran Aug 6 '13 at 16:29

As far as I know, it's because the person saying that is wishing the other person 'continued' well-being rather than 'singular', 'one-time' well being.

Keep in mind a big part of Spanish is influenced by the slavery culture created in Latin America by the Spanish conquistadors. The serfs, the local Indians, were expected to be 'more than courteous' to their masters, hence the abundance of courtesy in the Latin American version of Spanish as opposed to the 'original' Spanish you hear in Spain.

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Can you provide an example of a difference that would indicate this 'courtesy' variation in the language? – McArthey Nov 23 '11 at 11:46
Can you be more specific? I could answer that in 20 different angles. – Sotkra Dec 2 '11 at 9:40
I'm curious how the "original" Spanish you hear in Spain reflects courtesy. I understand that Usted is more commonly used but are there other indicators that someone speaking Spanish from another country might not be familiar with? – McArthey Dec 2 '11 at 19:11
Well, been to Spain a couple of times and, there seems to be no courtesy, certainly not in the entire central region. Only in Cataluña and Andalucía did I hear a rare 'please' but I could have been dreaming. For the most part, people just say things in a dry manner, for example: 'Give me that' - 'dame eso' | 'Pasame el vaso' - 'pass me the glass'. There's no please/would/could/should/maybe or anything like that preceding the questions – Sotkra Dec 2 '11 at 19:13
@Soktra I don't agree. The courtesy expresions are often and widely used, between people that doesn't know each other. A different thing is when there's confidence - then it is like you have exposed (there's a spanish tell "donde hay confianza da asco"). But I could be wrong. I've lived here all my life long and maybe I'm so used to this supposed lack of courtesy that don't see it. – Tomas Narros Mar 22 '12 at 10:06

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