'Hola' in English: Is 'Hola' or 'Ola' Correct?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on September 13, 2022

Hola! And welcome. If you’re here, we can only assume it’s because you’re looking to find out whether the correct word is 'hola' or 'ola' and understand the meaning of the Spanish word ‘hola’ in English.

In this blog, we’ll explain the meaning of the word ‘hola’ and the difference between ‘hola’ and ‘ola.’ We’ll also go into proper usage of the word.

Before we dig in, let us first confirm that the correct spelling for the word meaning ‘hello’ is ‘hola.’ ‘Ola’ is a different word entirely, meaning ‘wave.’

Meaning of the Word ‘Hola’ or 'Ola'

Are you wondering what the word ‘hola’ means in English and whether ‘hola’ or ‘ola’ is correct? Let’s answer that question.

The Meaning of Hola in Spanish and English

The word ‘hola’ is used as a greeting in Spanish and means ‘hello’ or ‘hi.’ It is a casual greeting to be used among friends or people you’re close with.

Of course, as you probably know, ‘hola’ is also used at times by English speakers, even though it’s acknowledged it isn’t an English word. It can be a fun and casual way to say to someone.

Spanish Languages

Did you know that Spanish is the official spoken language in at least 20 countries, spanning over three continents - Central America, South America, and Europe? Some examples are Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Cuba.

As well as that, though not the official language, it’s commonly spoken in others, including the USA and Andorra.

In all these countries, the Spanish spoken has slight variations. Some countries will more commonly use certain words than others, or some places might even use words that others never employ. However, ‘hola’ is used as a greeting to say hello in all of them.

To complicate matters further, Castilian, the Spanish we know, isn’t the only official language in Spain. There are several co-official languages, too. These are:

  • Aranese
  • Basque
  • Catalan
  • Valencian
  • Galician

‘Hola’ means hello in Catalan and Valencian. The Aranese also say it, but they spell it ‘ola.’ The Basque say ‘kaixo’ and the Galician say ‘saúdos’.

How to Pronounce 'Hola' or 'Ola' in English and Spanish

So now we know what ‘hola’ means, how should we pronounce it?

The ‘h’ in the word ‘hola’ is silent. Therefore you should pronounce ‘hola’ in exactly the same way as the word ‘ola.’ To say both words, you would make a sound like oh-la.

Or, the phonetic pronunciation is \ˈəʊla\.

If you are wondering about the reason for the confusion around the word’s spelling, it could be due to the silent ‘h.’ People often get the spelling ‘hola’ and ‘ola’ confused. That is because both ways are actually correct, and to know the correct spelling, you must know the word's intended meaning.

What Is the Difference - Is It 'Hola' or 'Ola'?

As you now know, ‘hola’ with an ‘h’ means ‘hello, and ‘ola’ without an ‘h’ means ‘wave.’ At least, that is the case in Castilian Spanish. It also means ‘hello’ in Aranese, but we’ll stick to the most common Spanish for now.

The word ‘ola’ means wave in the literal and figurative sense, just like in English. Therefore you would be able to use it to talk about a wave in the Ocean or the fourth wave of feminism. In fact, let’s use both of those examples in a sentence.

Fui a nadar esta mañana; las olas fueran muy grandes.

This sentence means: I went swimming this morning; the waves were big.
Here’s a sentence with the other example:

La cuarta ola de feminismo empezó en 2012.

This sentence means: The fourth wave of feminism began in 2012.

So if both ‘hola’ and ‘ola’ are pronounced the same, you might be wondering how to differentiate between the two if you’re having a conversation with someone and therefore can’t check how they spelled it. The key? It’s all about context. Listen to the rest of the sentence, and you’ll be able to deduct which meaning was intended.

Usage of the Word ‘Hola’

Now that we have clarified the meaning of the word ‘hola’ and how it differs from the word ‘ola,’ let us discuss for some time the proper usage of the word ‘hola’

What Contexts Can You Use ‘Hola’ in?

As mentioned earlier, ‘hola’ is somewhat of a casual word. Therefore, we wouldn’t want to use it in very formal situations, such as a job interview or when we want to make an impression. Take this with a pinch of salt, though, as many people won’t mind if you use it, just like they wouldn't mind if you said ‘hi’ in English instead of ‘good morning’, for example.

A good way to know whether it’s appropriate to say ‘hola’ in a situation is to think about whether it would be appropriate to say ‘hi’ if you were in the presence of English speakers.

If you don’t think it would be, and you’d like an alternative option for saying hello, take your pick from some of the following:

  • Buenos dias → Good day
  • Buenas tardes → Good afternoon
  • Buenas noches → Good night

It’s very common to follow up a greeting in Spanish with ‘¿que tal?’, which means ‘what’s up?’. To this, you might respond, ‘muy bien, ¿y tu?’

Conventions for Saying Hello

In many Spanish-speaking countries, it’s very common to kiss someone on the cheek when you greet them. This means saying the greeting ‘hola’ wouldn’t be enough - you’d also need to embrace them.

Check the conventions in the country you are going to in order to know the best way to approach this. Some countries give two kisses, others give one. Some give one kiss and a hug (such as in Argentina). So if you want to fit in and embrace the local culture, do a little research beforehand.

How to Respond to 'Hola'

So what if someone says ‘hola’ to you first? How should you respond to this?

Firstly, you should say ‘hola’ back, naturally. Then, you could ask, ‘¿que tal?’. To this, they might reply, ‘¿muy bien, y tu?’. This simply means, ‘I’m great, and you?’. You can then simply reply with how you’re feeling. Here are some ideas:

  • Muy bien, gracias → Very well, thanks.
  • Todo bien → All good.
  • Ahi voy → I’m getting on alright.
  • Estoy enfermo → I’m feeling sick.

What Does 'Hola, Como Estas' Mean in English?

‘Hola, ¿como estas?’ is another slight variation of the phrase that you might hear in Spanish. It is very similar to ‘hola, ¿que tal?’ but it’s a little less colloquial. Where ‘que tal’ means ‘what’s up’, ‘como estas’ means ‘how are you’.

So ‘Hola, ¿como estas?’ means ‘Hi, how are you?’

How might you respond to that? The same way that you would respond to ‘hola, ¿que tal?’ as outlined in the previous section.

Let’s Summarize for ‘Hola’ or ‘Ola’

Hopefully, now, you have a good understanding of:

The difference between ‘hola’ and ‘ola’
What both words mean
How to use ‘hola’ in a sentence
How to respond to ‘hola’ and other greeting phrases

To summarize, ‘hola’ means ‘hi’ or ‘hello,’ and ‘ola’ means ‘wave.’ Both words are pronounced exactly the same, and therefore the intended meaning should be derived from the context.

Now you’re ready, it’s time to go off and practice your Spanish!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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