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Brian Barder

Yes, it's a strange bit of idiom. I'm similarly amused by "Good evening" -- only really suitable on greeting someone at the relevant time of day, not on bidding anyone goodbye -- compared with "Good night" which is the opposite. Is it the same in French, and perhaps other languages? I seem to remember being warned once that "Bonne nuit" could be embarrassingly misconstrued if uttered at an inappropriate moment.



For good or for ill, I have not found myself in circumstances in which ‘Bonne nuit’ might be taken amiss, but perhaps it would be wise to say ‘Au revoir’ if in doubt. The Arabic for ‘Good night’ is ‘May you awake in the morning in a state of prosperity’, which at least minimizes any potential for misunderstanding.

Your story, Peter, reminds us that it is not enough to have a command of the grammar, vocabulary and phonology of a language to use it effectively. We also require communicative competence, a term first used in the 1960s and which includes knowledge of how to use language appropriately in different circumstances.

Peter Harvey

The use of good evening is something that I occasionally find myself explaining to students. As I say in my Guide to English Language Usage under greetings:

'Strictly, Good morning is used as a greeting until 12 o’clock midday, but many people use it until lunchtime, which may be a little later. Good afternoon is used until about five or six o’clock and good evening is used after that for the rest of the evening. Good night is the equivalent of goodbye, and can be used in the evening. It is perfectly possible to say good night to someone at eight o’clock in the evening, and then to say good evening to someone else an hour later.'

Spanish divides the day into only two parts, mañana (morning, until lunch time) and tarde for late afternoon and evening. Buenas noches (good night is used as a greeting in the later evening.

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