If you have Korean friends or a Korean partner, what can be a better surprise for them than you learning how to say happy birthday in Korean.
We all know that the Korean age works differently and how all Koreans turn a year older on the 1st of January regardless of when they are born. Yes, you read that right.
But despite this tradition, birthdays are a huge deal in Korea. With more exposure to western pop culture, Koreans have begun to celebrate their birthdays with a bang.
This means, getting a cake, candles, birthday hats, and the whole shebang!
Related: How To Say I Love You In Korean
Related: How To Say Thank You In Korean
Related: List of Korean Traditions
So it would mean a lot to your Korean loved ones if you’d learn how to say happy birthday in Korean.
But this isn’t as simple as you’d like to think!
Korean society is very strict on addressing your elders and superiors with respect. So there are different ways to say happy birthday to different people, depending on their relationship with you.
There’s a polite way to wish acquaintances like colleagues, an informal way for your boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend, and a formal way to pay your respects to grandparents, parents, and the “elders” in Korean society.
How To Say Happy Birthday In Korea
Before you learn how to say happy birthday in Korean, you need to know that there are certain words in Korean that have honorific forms.
This means, that the Korean word can be written and pronounced in several different ways depending on who you are addressing.
The regular word for “birthday” in Korean is saengil (Hangul – 생일). This form can be used to refer to your own birthday, the birthdays of someone closer to you in age. Or if you’re speaking of it in general terms (without referring to anyone’s birthday in particular).
However, if you’re referring to the birthday of someone older than you or superior to you in the social hierarchy (example, your Korean boss), you need to use the word saengsin (Hangul – 생신)
So you can either say saeng il chuk ha ham ni da or saengsin chuk ha ham ni da to wish someone happy birthday in Korean.
How To Say Happy Birthday In Korean – Formal
If you want to say happy birthday in Korean in a formal way you can use the following phrase:
Saengsineul chukadeurimnida – 생신을 축하드립니다
This is a more respectful way of saying happy birthday and can be used to address your boss, partner’s parents, and grandparents, and generally to any stranger who’s a lot older than you.
The phrase is a combination of the words chukahada which means to celebrate or to congratulate and the verb deurida which means to give.
The postfix “-inminda” is an honorific that you can see attached several formal Korean phrases like saying thank you or I love you.
So literally you’re saying “I give congratulations to you on your birthday” in a very respectful way.
How To Say Happy Birthday In Korean – Informal
If you’re going to a Korean friend’s birthday party, the above phrase can sound too formal and stuffy.
For more informal speech, such as wishing your best friend or girlfriend/boyfriend during their birthdays, you need to use the expression…Saengil chukahae written in hangul as 생일 축하해.
You’ll notice that the more formal word for birthday isn’t used. But saengil is used instead.
Also, the chukahae is used instead of chukahada. So this phrase literally means congratulations on your birthday.
This phrase is used to denote intimacy between the wisher and the person whose birthday is being celebrated.
So be careful while using this phrase. Don’t use Saengil chukahae for someone you won’t consider a member of your family or inner circle.
How To Say Happy Birthday In Korean – Standard
Instead of the formal or informal greetings for a person’s birthday, you can use a standard one.
This standard way to say happy birthday in Korean comes handy when you’re addressing a stranger, a mild acquaintance whom you don’t know very well (like a colleague), or someone at your workplace or school.
The phrase to use when wishing someone a happy birthday in Korean is Saengil chukahaeyo. It is written in Hangul as 생일 축하해요.
You’ll notice that this happy birthday wish keeps the more casual use of the word birthday saengnil instead of the more respectful saengsin.
Also the honorific –inimida is removed as this is is usually applied to senior citizens and respected members of family like your grandparents.
Or someone in power like your boss or the professor in your university.
This however is still respectul enough and not very short and easy going like the greeting Saengil chukahae.
Imagine the difference between the two being similar to saying “thanks” and “thank you”.
Both are informal enough but thank you seems more respectful to use.
How To Sing Happy Birthday In Korean
Want to surprise your Korean boyfriend or girlfriend? Or perhaps impress their family members?
Try singing the birthday song for them in Korean. You don’t have to change the tune or melody, just the lyrics.
Here’s how it goes…
saranghaneun (insert the person’s name) ssi
Be careful to replace saengil chukahamnida with the more informal Saengil chukahae if you’re singing this song for your partner or best friend.
This birthday song can be written in hangul as the following way:
사랑하는 (name) 씨
Other Birthday-Related Expressions In Korean
It’s not just enough to know how to say happy birthday in Korean. Here are some more phrases and sentences (all birthday-related, of course!) that you can use in your daily interactions with South Korean people.
If you want to ask someone when their birthday is in Korean, you should use the following phrases:
How to ask when someone’s birthday is in Korean
Standard/Polite way to ask when someone’s birthday is in Korean
Okay, so imagine you’re an expat at a office party thrown by your Korean colleagues. You’re engaging in conversation with one of them. And although you don’t know them very well, you’re still not that far apart in age.
So in this scenario, the best way to ask someone when their birthday is in Korean is to say Sengili unje-eyo, written in Hangul as 생일이 언제예요.
Formal/respectful way to ask when someone’s birthday is in Korean
If you want to ask an older person say your Korean friend’s grandmother, or your partner’s mom when their birthday is, you should say sengili unjeseyo, written in Hangul as 생신이 언제세요.
Informal way to ask when someone’s birthday is in Korean
If you want to ask your Korean date or close friend when their birthday is, you can use the informal phrase Sengili unjeya. It is written in hangul as 생일이 언제야.
This phrase is also appropriate when asking a young child for their birth date.
How to tell someone your birthday in Korean
Alright, let’s say for example’s sake that you’re birthday is on the 5th of May, you there are two ways you can say when your birthday is in Korean.
For reference sake, here is a list of the names of the months in Korean. So you can easily make note of what word to substitute for your birth month.
일월 (irwol) – January
이월 (iwol) – February
삼월 (samwol) – March
사월 (sawol) – April
오월 (owol) – May
유월 (yuwol) – June
칠월 (chirwol) – July
팔월 (parwol) – August
구월 (guwol) – September
시월 (siwol) – October
십일월 (shipirwol) – November
십이월 (shipiwol)- December
The polite way of saying when you’re birthday is in Korean
When talking to an older person about when your birthday is, you can use the phrase – Je sengileun 5wol 5ilieyo. It is written in Hangul as 제 생일은 5월 5일이에요.
The informal way of saying when you’re birthday is in Korean
If you’re speaking to someone of the same age as yourself. Say for example, telling a classmate when your birthday is, you should use the phrase ne sengileun 5wol 5iliya written in Hangul as 내 생일은 5월5일이야.
The main difference between the two sentences is that the first one uses the more polite postfix of “yo” (에요) while the second uses the more casual “-liya” (이야).
Birthdays are a huge cause for celebration in Korean culture. Especially birthdays that mark milestones in Korean cultures. Such as a baby’s first birthday, the 60th, etc.
There is usually a huge feast where close family and friends are invited and traditional food is prepared.
Nowadays, cutting a cake is also a standard practice in South Korea. And so is singing the happy birthday song.
However, Koreans still stick to their roots. So all the singing and wishing happens in Korean.
So it comes in handy to learn how to say happy birthday in Korean.