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Basic Bulgarian, Lesson 2 - Hi! How are you? (Greetings, Part 1)

Previously on Basic Bulgarian: Lesson 1 - Enough IPA to get tipsy. Please study it carefully, because this lesson is heavy on IPA notation.

So my goal for Basic Bulgarian is to teach useful things, but also teach fun things. To that end, we'll cover the standard greetings and basic expressions you'd see in every other intro course, but I've thrown in a couple of everyday, more colloquial expressions that reflect what Bulgarians actually say.

Informal greetings

  • Здрасти! ['zdrasti] - Hi! (most informal, common between friends, family members, etc)
  • Здравей! [zdrɐ'vɛj] - Hello! (used to address one person, literal meaning is "be healthy")
  • Здравейте! [zdrɐ'vɛjtɛ] - Hello! (when addressing multiple people, or one person politely)

Whoa! So many consonants! #tonguetwister #nothanks

A lot of people get scared by the 'zdr' at the beginning of these words. When you get two or more consonants together like that, it is called a 'consonant cluster'. When something occurs at the beginning of a word, we call it 'word-initial'. So Bulgarian is pretty fond of word-initial consonant clusters. English was too, before the Norman Conquest - for example, the word 'cniht' (boy) in Old English was pronounced [knixt], but today its descendant "knight" has a silent "k". Back to 'zdr' - consider the sentence "I was drunk". The "..s dr.." part of that is almost exactly what you need, except that the "r" is rolled like in Spanish. Try saying that sentence with a rolled "r", and slowly drop off the stuff at the beginning:

  • I was drunk
  • was drunk
  • 'as drunk
  • 's drunk

And now you've got it.

A couple of other interesting things are happening in our hi's and hello's. First, there is a difference between addressing one person and addressing multiple people. This boils down to the fact that unlike English, where "you" may refer to one person or multiple people, Bulgarian makes a distinction. That distinction is also preserved in the forms of verbs. You also see that in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and a lot of other European languages. Since "здравей" is actually an imperative verb form (i.e. a command, "be healthy"), its ending changes based on whether you're talking to one person or several.

The next observation to make is that there's a difference between informal "you" and formal, "polite" you. You see this in Spanish with "tú" vs "usted", in German with "du" vs "Sie". It is a very common feature of European languages, and it's known as the T-V distinction. Basically, when you want to address another person politely in Bulgarian, you use the same verb form as for addressing many people - the "you all" form.

More greetings

Pronunciation note: we've shown the IPA way of indicating where the stress falls in a word. But what about a phrase? Consider "Happy birthday!". There is stress on "ha" in "happy", and "bir" in "birthday". However, the stress on "bir" is somewhat heavier - it makes "birthday" the more accented word in that phrase. That's an example of 'primary stress' (as on "birthday") and 'secondary stress' (as on "happy"). Secondary stress in IPA is marked with a lowered apostrophe - ˌ

  • Добро утро! [doˌbrɔ 'utro] - Good morning!
  • Добър ден! [ˌdɔbɤr 'dɛn] - Good afternoon! (literally, "Good day!")
  • Добър вечер! [ˌdɔbɤr 'vɛtʃɛr] - Good evening!
  • Лека нощ! [ˌlɛkɐ 'nɔʃt] - Good night!

These expressions are very old, and as such have some weird features - for example, notice how the stress falls on the first syllable of "добър". That only happens in these expressions, otherwise the stress falls on the second syllable. There are other weird aspects of these greetings, but we won't get into them now - just remember them as phrases pronounced a certain, fixed way.

But really, how's it going?

  • Как си? ['kak si] - How are you? (addressing one person, "как" = how, "си" = are (you))
  • Как сте? ['kak stɛ] - How are you? (addressing multiple people, or one person politely; "сте" = are (you all, or "polite" you))
  • Как е? ['kak ɛ] - How's it going? (very informal, "е" = is (it))
  • Как върви? [ˌkak vɤr'vi] - How's it going? (informal)

Cultural note - "how are you" is actually a real question in Bulgaria, and often a conversation opener. People are going to tell you exactly how they are feeling, in vivid detail. Living in the US, which is definitely not like that, makes it fun when I go back home to visit, and get in a cab. Sometimes the answer to "how are you" isn't even done yet by the time I have to get off!

With that in mind, here are some possible answers to Как си? ("How are you?")

  • Добре съм. [do'brɛ sɤm] - I'm fine/alright/OK. (literally "Fine am (I)." Yoda references, anyone?)
  • Добре. [do'brɛ] - Fine/Alright/OK. (short version of the above, and more common in colloquial speech)
  • Криво-ляво добре. ['krivo ˌljavo do'brɛ] - More or less alright. ("криво-ляво" is another expression, literally "crooked-leftward". Don't ask.)
  • Горе-долу. ['gɔrɛ ˌdɔɫo] - So-so. (literally "up-down")
  • Както обикновено. [ˌkakto obikno'vɛno] - Like usual.
  • Не съм много добре. [nɛ 'sɤm ˌmnɔgo do'brɛ] - I'm not doing/feeling very well.

Quick note: I'm cheating a bit with [lj] - it is one sound, a "soft l" like the "gli" in Italian "pagliacci". IPA has a separate chacater for that - also check out the sound sample. But Bulgarian has a lot more soft consonants, and that would require a lot more IPA symbols. So I'm cheating a bit here.

And here are some possible answers to Как е? ("How's it going?")

  • Добре е. [do'brɛ ɛ] - It's going well.
  • Бива. ['bivɐ] - It's going alright (well enough).
  • Как да е? ['kak dɐ ɛ] - How should it be going? (rhetorical question meant to convey it hasn't been going very well. We say such things all the time.)

Finally, some possible answers to Как върви? ("How's it going?")

  • Нормално. [nor'maɫno] - (It's going) normally.
  • Никак не върви. ['nikɐk nɛ vɐr'vi] - It's not going (well) at all.


  1. съм [sɤm] - am
  2. си [si] - (you, singular) are
  3. е [ɛ] - is
  4. сте [stɛ] - (you, plural) are
  5. ден [dɛn] - day
  6. вечер ['vɛtʃɛr] - evening
  7. нощ [nɔʃt] - night
  8. здрасти ['zdrasti] - hi
  9. здравей(те) [zdrɐ'vɛj(tɛ)] - hello
  10. добре [do'brɛ] - well, fine
  11. как [kak] - how
  12. много ['mnɔgo] - very

Is that enough to whet your appetite for Bulgarian phrases? We're only scratching the surface!

Up next: giving and accepting thanks, making short conversation, and the verb "to be"

September 19, 2015



Thanks...a Lingot for you ;-)

Добър вечер!


Thank you! In my time zone, it's actually Добър ден! ;)


много интересно :)) Bulgarian should come easy given that I'm learning Serbian. Does Bulgarian have cases like most Slavic languages?


Wonderful BG phrase there! :) And no - Bulgarian and Macedonian are the only Slavic languages which have lost their cases. We still have them in pronouns, like in English "me" vs "my", but not on nouns or adjectives. So at least the noun system of Bulgarian is quite a bit easier in that regard.


Another great reason to learn Български! Благодаря :))


Sorry if I've got this wrong, but Bulgarian still has case doesn't it? Compare hotel in "Хотелът е хубав" and "Аз съм в хотела". That's case, isn't it (subject vs. object)? This is like in German where "der" becomes "den" etc. I appreciate this is only done in writing, on masculine nouns, and in speech it's practically ignored but it's still there ;)

I tried learning Bulgarian in the past, and all I can say is: много много трудно е :)


Hi! Your example is actually not one of case, but of the way Bulgarian uses the definite article ("the"). Like in Norwegian, which you are studying, the definite article is added to the end of the word. In both of your sentences, you have "the hotel", and the difference is that in the first sentence "the hotel" is a subject, and in the second sentence it's not - the definite article changes when it's used in a subject.

Bulgarian has remnants of cases, such as the vocative - "Аз съм Иван." - "Приятно ми е, Иване." But they are only remnants, i.e. they are limited to a handful of scenarios and are not functional on every adjective and noun like in German.


Thanks for your explanation!


Je li "mnogo interesno" ista fraza na srpskom i bugarskom? Mislim da su ovaj jezici baš slični. I ja učim toj jezik i mogu da gotovo sve razumijem u ovim lekcijama.


Bulgarian and Serbian are both South Slavic languages, which means that they are especially close. In fact, after Macedonian, Serbian is the closest language to Bulgarian. We have a lot of the same words, except oftentimes the stress falls on a different syllable. Usually if I'm watching a Serbian movie, that confuses me at the beginning, but after about half an hour I start to follow it more easily.

People from Western Bulgaria (e.g. the Sofia region) are generally better at understanding Serbian, because they are geographically closer. I'm from the seaside (Eastern Bulgaria), so it takes me a little more effort. Even so, all the South Slavic languages form a dialect continuum, meaning that if you go from village to adjacent village starting in Eastern Bulgaria and ending in Western Slovenia, the differences between two neighboring villages will be small. At both ends, however, things will have diverged to the point where mutual intelligibility is difficult. For example, I can't follow Slovenian very well at all. More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Slavic_languages


Mislim da je tako, srpski je vaš materinji jezik?


Ne, nije, ja sam Amerikanac. A moja baka je živila u Sarajevu i u Brašovu, Rumanjska, i mi zanimaju balkanski jezici.


Јесте ) И на македонском: "Многу интересно". Не говориш лоше српски иако имаш неколико грешака а лепо је што је твоја бака живела на Балкану )


Interestingly, I think that I will learn Bulgarian. Great post, go ahead! ) My native language and your are very similar, but we consider separate languages, and not dialects. Thanks and greetings )


Yes, I think as a Macedonian speaker, Bulgarian will be even easier for you to learn than Serbian. Разбира се, между двата езика има разлики, но с достатъчно желание и упорство те няма да са проблем ;)


All I understood. It is quite similar to Macedonian so I agree with you )


Hey, you could include links to forvo.com to show how words are pronounced. E.g. здрасти.


Sweet! I didn't know about that site. Will check it out, thanks!

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