Saying “happy birthday” in French is an important phrase for any aspiring French learner. In fact, many people learn how to say “happy birthday” before they learn how to actually speak the language. There is something fun about wishing your French friend happy birthday knowing that it means something more special to them than it does to you.
So how do you actually go about doing it? There’s actually a couple of different ways to say “happy birthday” in French so let’s take a look at each of them.
How to Say Happy Birthday in French
This is probably the most common way that you’ll come across when interacting with native-French speakers. You may recognize the word joyeux from the phrase Joyeux Noël which translates to “Merry Christmas”.
The word joyeux here of course translates to “happy” whereas anniversaire translates to birthday.
Put them together and you get “Happy Birthday”.
Don’t look at the word anniversaire and assume it just means anniversary. It actually does mean anniversary, such as in the phrase anniversaire de mariage (marriage anniversary), but without some context it’s difficult to tell which one it means.
If it helps you at all, try to think of your birthday as the anniversary of your birthday. Your birthday only happens once in your life. Each year when you celebrate it you’re actually just celebrating the anniversary of it.
This is another very common way of saying “happy birthday” in French. The literal translation is good birthday. Remember that although the word anniversaire is masculin (which is why we use the word bon instead of bonne) you want to pronounce the word bon as bonne due to the fact that the word anniversaire starts with a vowel.
If it helps, remember it as bonne anniversaire, just don’t spell it like that.
How to say Happy Birthday in Canadian French (Québecois)
This is the most commonly-used way to say Happy Birthday in Québec. You probably won’t hear this too much if you are living in or visiting France. However in Québec you can use this one all you want.
Having that said, the term bonnes fêtes (pronounced exactly the same way as bonne fête) is used very commonly in France and is generally what you would say around the holiday season in December. It basically is the French form of “Happy Holidays”.
If you are looking for a guide to Québécois French then I’d recommend the Assimil Guide Québécois. It goes into a lot more depth than just using bonne fête to say happy birthday.
Although the above examples are perfect ways to tell your French friends “Happy Birthday” you may want to turn them into a complete sentences. For example you could say…
- Je vous souhaite un bon anniversaire (I wish you a happy birthday)
- Je te souhaite un bon anniversaire
- Passez un bon anniversaire (Have a good birthday)
- Passe un bon anniversaire
There you have it! Wishing your friends happy birthday in French is actually quite easy. The next time you are with a French-speaking friend you’ll now know exactly how to impress them no matter where in the world they are from!