15 August 2020

Why Spanish speakers say "buenos días" and the plural expresivo

Have you ever thought about why in Spanish we say buenos días in plural? There are a few theories, but the most commonly accepted one is that the expression was shortened from a longer phrase.

Woman sitting in a café waving hello to someone outside the frame
Why do Spanish speakers say buenos días instead of just buen día?

It only happens in Spanish

In all the other Romance languages that have their roots in Latin, they use the singular form of this salutation. Bonjour in French, buon giorno in Italian, and even buna dimineata in Romanian. Why then, if they’re only talking about the current day, do Spanish speakers use the plural to say hello? There are 3 theories.

3 theories

1. Short version of “Buenos días os dé Dios”

It’s possible that buenos días comes from a longer expression used in the past. People used to say “Buenos días os dé Díos” and they weren’t just referring to one day, but the next days too. We shortened this long phrase over time (as we generally like to do) and it became buenos días, buenas tardes, and buenas noches.

2. Division of days in the Middle Ages

The second theory is that the greeting came from the canonical hours of the day. These were 7 blocks of time used to indicate the schedule of religious prayers in medieval times. The canonical hours were called “maitines, laudes and vísperas” and were always referred to in the plural form. It may be that this is where buenos días in plural originated.

3. Plural expresivo

The plural expresivo (or expressive plural) is another plausible reason for Spanish speakers saying buenos días. You may have noticed that Spanish speakers are slightly more intense in their emotions and manner of speaking. For this reason, they use the “plural expresivo”. It’s a matter not of quantity but rather intensity.

These types of plurals are most commonly used to express courtesy and respect, but there are other uses too.

For example:

Mis condolencias
Muchas gracias

In many of these expressions, it’s perfectly correct to use the singular: un salado, un beso, but a Spanish speaker might think, “why hold back? Is there a reason you’re being stingy?”

Some other examples include:

Felices fiestas
Tener ganas

It happens with sporting events as well. Even though there is a collective game, we can refer to the World Cup in Spanish as el Mundial or los Mundiales. The same goes for las Olimpiadas. There are many games making up the entire competition.

Now you understand why we say buenos días more often than buen día (which is also a perfectly acceptable greeting). Most linguists believe it came from the shortening of longer expressions!

Can you think of any other examples of the plural expresivo being used? Maybe you’ll notice it more now that you know about it. If you’re interested in learning more Spanish, feel free to check out our offerings of both in-person and online classes.

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