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I'm writing about cultural differences - not for scientific purposes - and am trying to find out about more and less formal ways of saying goodbye in English.

  • On a scale of formality (from least to most formal), where would you put "goodbye", "bye-bye", "bye", "take care" and "cheers"?
  • What would you use in a formal context (e.g. business meeting with 'important' people in the company/decision-makers, etc.)?

I'm mostly interested in answers relating to American and British English, but any other varieties are welcome as well.

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You're missing "farewell" (do people use it anymore?), "tata", "ciao". – Peter Shor May 3 '13 at 13:00
I haven't heard "farewell" in spoken English, and "tata" is more of a dialect/regional thing, isn't it?. Is "ciao" also used a lot (we use it in German, too). – pasacasa May 3 '13 at 13:20
"Goodbye" can sound quite formal, depending on HOW it is said. "Bye-bye" (sometimes pronounced bub eye'), "bye" and "take care" are more informal than formal. Just make sure NOT to say "See ya later, alligator" or "In a while, crocodile" in a formal setting! – rhetorician May 3 '13 at 13:24
Speaking as an American, I'd say "cheers" is also a dialect thing (it's certainly not American), and I hear it a lot less than "ciao". – Peter Shor May 3 '13 at 14:36
In the UK 'taraa', also shortened to 'tra' is very common, informally. – Mynamite May 4 '13 at 0:41

British English native speaker: Out of those options, I'd put goodbye most formal, followed by bye and take care around equal, then bye-bye. Cheers is a synonym for thanks, and I wouldn't use it as a salutation.

In the context you've described (not sure I'd call it 'formal'; perhaps 'business' or something like that), probably something like bye, goodbye, take care, good to meet you, see you soon, thanks for taking the time etc..

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Thanks, that's helpful. I've heard "cheers" a lot when I lived in Wales, could it be a regional thing? – pasacasa May 3 '13 at 13:22
Well, I can imagine it used when leaving someone, to mean thanks for meeting me or suchlike. But I wouldn't call it a synonym for goodbye. – dbmag9 May 3 '13 at 15:47
@pasacasa 'Cheers' is often used to sign off emails (informally), not necessarily as 'thanks'. I've seen this in Wales, though I don't know if it's common elsewhere. – Mynamite May 4 '13 at 0:39

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