Celebrating a birthday is a fantastic occasion to bring all your loved ones together for a party. If you have friends across the world, it’s also a great way to learn how to say happy birthday in their language — in this case, French. Given the number of French-speaking countries in the world, many people may be wondering how you say happy birthday in French. So let’s dive into eleven different ways to wish someone the best birthday wishes, depending on who they are and your relationship with them. Plus, we’ll cover some French birthday traditions and of course, the birthday song in French!
- The classic – for friends, family and partners
- Wishing happy birthday to a colleague
- The formal way for people you don’t know very well
- Bonus: French birthday traditions
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The classic – for friends, family and partners
Let’s start with the classic/standard way to say happy birthday in French. There are three common options:
- Joyeux anniversaire (Happy birthday)
- Bon anniversaire (Happy birthday)
- Heureux anniversaire (Happy birthday)
These phrases are the same in terms of content and register, so you can use any of them when wishing your family member, friend or partner a happy birthday in French. You can also say:
- Un an de plus, ça se fête ! (One more year is a cause for celebration)
- Passe un bon anniversaire/Passe une merveilleuse journée d’anniversaire (Have a great birthday)
If you want to wish your partner a happy birthday, it’s nice to say:
- Bon anniversaire mon amour/ mon chéri / ma chérie (Happy birthday my love / my darling (male and female versions))
Wishing happy birthday to a colleague
Now, if you’re celebrating somebody’s birthday at work, you might want to be a little more formal. Especially if you address your colleagues using vous instead of tu. You could try out some of the following phrases:
- Je vous souhaite un très bon anniversaire (I wish you a very happy birthday)
- Que cette nouvelle année vous apporte plein de bonheur (May this new year bring you lots of happiness)
- La santé, l’amour et le bonheur (Health, love and happiness)
The formal way for people you don’t know very well
Lastly, let’s look at how you can give the best birthday wishes in French to someone you don’t know very well, or within a formal context. For example, your boss.
- Meilleurs vœux d’anniversaire/ pour votre anniversaire (Best wishes)
- Un an de plus, félicitations (Another year, congratulations)
Félicitations can also be used to congratulate people in other ways, for example, when someone buys a house or passes an exam.
Bonus: French birthday traditions
Birthdays are celebrated in France like many other countries, with gifts (cadeaux), parties (fêtes) and of course, the happy birthday song (chanson d’anniversaire)! Some interesting French birthday traditions include:
- Birthday cakes tend to be more subtle in France than in the United States, for example. It’s unusual to have lots of icing on the cake, French birthday cakes tend to be more minimal, like a fruit tart.
- Birthday cards are not as common as in other countries.
- Like the cake, birthday parties are less fancy or less over-the-top than other places. A simple birthday dinner with a bottle of champagne and a birthday toast often suffice.
But one tradition that transcends borders: The birthday song! Why not have a go singing the happy birthday song in French? It’s a great way to practice the language while singing along to a tune you already know:
The icing on the cake
So there we have it, eleven ways to say happy birthday in French. Hopefully, the next time your French-speaking friend celebrates a birthday, you’ll feel well-equipped to wish them best birthday wishes in French and celebrate it as they would do in France.
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Clara Avrillier is a writer, linguist and content manager living in the South of France. She loves getting out in nature, doing sport, reading and playing music. She also works with expats looking to move to France. Connect with her on LinkedIn.