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I'm a non-native English speaker and sometimes it's hard for me to pick up the right word in some situations.

Could you, please, explain when it's better to use "goodbye" for ending a conversation, when "bye" fits well, and is it appropriate to use "bye bye" at all? When is it better to use other options, for example "see you soon", "see you later" and the like?

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I guess it depends on the region, situation and with whom you're speaking (friends, coworkers, family, etc). But I'm actually interested in the answers to your question. –  b.roth Sep 6 '10 at 16:57
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Neal Conan uses “bye-bye” on the NPR show “Talk of the Nation” and it’s always jarring to me—too familiar, almost like baby talk. I think it would be less distracting if he said “buh-bye” instead. –  nohat Oct 8 '10 at 15:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In general, the "see you ..." variants mean that you plan to meet the person you are talking to again, whereas the "bye" variants tend to imply that you don't plan to see the person again any time soon. So "see you ..." is often appropriate around family, friends, or the office, because you would normally see the other person again soon on some predictable schedule. "Bye ..." variants may be more appropriate when seeing someone off to a journey or in a shop to the cashier that you don't know. A colleague saying "bye" around the office might mean that he is going on vacation or is changing jobs. (The origin of "goodbye" is "God be with you", so arguably the other person ought to be going on a significant journey that you have to wish such support.)

This distinction is probably lost on many people, but I have seen people startled when the wrong variant is used.

As for the "bye" variants, I'd say

  • "goodbye": quite formal
  • "bye": casual, sometimes nearly meaningless
  • "bye bye": more familiar, sometimes sarcastic

As always, however, it also depends on context and taste.

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What do you mean by "nearly meaningless"? –  Kosmonaut Sep 6 '10 at 22:50
    
@Kosmonaut: It is said so often that it carries no actual significance. Someone saying "bye" doesn't wish you better or worse than someone saying nothing at all. It is just a convenient and polite way to terminate a conversation; it is more of a protocol element than message content. –  Peter Eisentraut Sep 7 '10 at 12:59
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In my experience people use "see you [later]" even if they are total strangers and have no intention of ever seeing that person again. It seems to have lost its literal meaning unless a specified time is stated. Sort of like how people say "how are you" when they mean "hello". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 7 '10 at 14:29
    
@Peter Eisentraut Okay, I understand that it doesn't express a wish for someone to be better or worse, but that doesn't make the phrase meaningless. It means "I am expressing my intention to terminate the conversation", which is something. If you are talking to someone and say "bye" and then leave, it definitely means something different than just suddenly walking away (or hanging up). So I guess it is just the specific word choice of "meaningless" that I disagree with. Maybe calling it something like "a mere discourse marker with little other meaning" would be a better description :) –  Kosmonaut Sep 7 '10 at 14:41
    
@Kosmonaut: Point taken, but note that I said "sometimes nearly meaningless", not "meaningless". –  Peter Eisentraut Sep 7 '10 at 19:34

I have noticed that "bye bye" is overused by many non-native speakers - much of my experience is with Italians who may take the repetition as analogous with the familiar but otherwise unremarkable "ciao ciao" (NB that in English, unrepeated "ciao" is used for "goodbye", but not, as in Italian, for "hello"). It is childish and best avoided in most circumstances.

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Yes, totally agree about overusing "bye bye" by non-native speakers. My experience is the same. +1 –  rem Oct 9 '10 at 3:25

WORD HISTORY : No doubt more than one reader has wondered exactly how goodbye is derived from the phrase “God be with you.” To understand this, it is helpful to see earlier forms of the expression, such as God be wy you, god b'w'y, godbwye, god buy' ye, and good-b'wy. The first word of the expression is now good and not God, for good replaced God by analogy with such expressions as good day, perhaps after people no longer had a clear idea of the original sense of the expression. A letter of 1573 written by Gabriel Harvey contains the first recorded use of goodbye: “To requite your gallonde [gallon] of godbwyes, I regive you a pottle of howdyes,” recalling another contraction that is still used

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So I think this word shouldn't be used unless you know what it really means then use it as you like –  Samir Nasser Choukair May 22 at 6:03

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