6 Different Ways to Say Happy Birthday in Korean

Learning how to say happy birthday in Korean to someone is not so straightforward. Koreans have a unique way of celebrating birthdays that distinguishes them from other cultures. Koreans value respect and use honorifics when referring to people in a higher social hierarchy. This includes when celebrating birthdays and ways to say happy birthday. They make use of different phrases for each age group. These honorifics can be special titles, words, or verbs that are used mainly for older people. They are used to show respect and distance in the hierarchyHonorifics can be used when talking to and about family members such as an older brother, or older sister, or an older male and female you get to meet in your everyday life. Before moving on, to get yourself familiarized with Hangul, check out our article on the Korean alphabet.

How to Say Happy Birthday in Korean

The common word for birthday in Korean is 생일 (saengil), but you should only use this if you are referring to yourself or someone of a similar or younger age. However, if you want to refer to someone older than you, then you should use the word 생신 (saengsin) instead. This version also means birthday, but you would like to use it for people such as your grandparents or older relatives. Then we add 축하하다 (chughahada) which means “to celebrate” and 드려요 (deulyeoyo), meaning  “to give”. When these words are combined, they form the two common ways to say “Happy Birthday” in Korean. They are 생일 축하해요 (saengil chukahaeyo) or 생일 축하합니다! (saengil chukahamnida). To learn how to answer politely with a thank you, be sure to check out thank you in Korean. But there are more ways, depending on the level of formality. There is a formal version of happy birthday, a standard version as well as an informal version. Let us delve deeply into each and explain in detail. Before we move on if you are curious about what does oppa mean in Korean we have an article about honorifics in Korean that might come in handy. 

Formal ‘Happy Birthday’ in Korean

1. 생신을 축하드립니다! (saengsineul chukadeurimnida)

This expression is a formal way to say “happy birthday” to people who are much older than you and even your parents. It uses the formal word for birthday. The honorific verb here is 축하하다 (chukahada), which means “to celebrate” which is then combined with the verb 드리다 (deurida), which is the formal version of “to give”. You would use this version of happy birthday for your grandparents, professors at your university, and very old people in the community.

Example: 생신을 축하드립니다, 할머니. 올해도 잘 부탁드립니다  (saengsineul chukadeurimnida, halmeoni. olhaedo jal butagdeulibnida)

English translation: Happy Birthday, Grandma. I wish you all the best this year

 

Example: 생신을 축하드립니다, 팀장님. 나는 당신에게 장수와 번영을 기원합니다 (saengsineul chukadeurimnida, timjangnim. naneun dangsin-ege jangsuwa beon-yeong-eul giwonhabnida)

English translation: Happy birthday, Chief. I wish you long life and prosperity.

 

Example: 팻 교수님, 생신을 축하드립니다. 나는 당신에게 더 많은 년을 기원합니다  (paes gyosunim, saengsineul chukadeurimnida. naneun dangsin-ege deo manh-eun nyeon-eul giwonhabnida)

English translation: Professor Pat, happy birthday. I wish you more years.

 

2. 생일 축하 드려요 (saengil chukha deuryeoyo)

The phrase 생일 축하 드려요 is a more formal way to greet someone “happy birthday” in Korean, particularly for someone you are not very close with but you have huge respect for them such as an older relative, your teacher, or an older business associate.

Example: 생일 축하 드려요삼촌, 당신의 모든 소원이 이루어지기를 (saengil chukha deuryeoyo samchon, dangsin-ui modeun sowon-i ilueojigileul)

English translation: Happy birthday uncle, may all your wishes come true

 

Example: 생일 추카 드려요 동현 씨, 머진 한해가 되길 바라니다 (saeng-il chuka deulyeoyo donghyeon ssi, meojin hanhaega doegil balanida)

English translation: I wish you a happy birthday, Mr. Donghyun.

 

Example: 칸 선생님의 생일 축하 드려. 더 행복한 귀환을 기원합니다 (kan seonsaengnim-ui saeng-il chukha deuryeoyo. deo haengboghan gwihwan-eul giwonhabnida)

English translation: Happy birthday to teacher Khan. Wishing you more happy returns

 

Standard ‘Happy Birthday’ in Korean

1. 생일 축하합니다! (saengil chukahamnida)

This phrase is the standard version of “happy birthday” commonly used in birthday songs and cards. It is a formal and polite way to celebrate someone’s birthday, as it is mainly used for someone a little older or someone you are not close with. You can also say this word on its own if you want to congratulate somebody on achieving something. If you only want to learn one way of how to say “happy birthday” in Korean, then learn this phrase. You would say this phrase to professional co-workers, academic colleagues, or team members older than you.

Example: 선배님 생일축하합니다특별한 날 좋은일만 가득하시길 바래요 (seonbaenim saeng-il chukahamnida teugbyeolhan nal joh-eun-ilman gadeughasigil balaeyo)

English translation: Happy birthday senior colleague, I hope your special day is full of good things

 

Example: 내 상사의 생일을 축하합니다, 좋은 삶을 보내세요! (nae sangsaui saeng-il-eul chughahabnida, joh-eun salm-eul bonaeseyo!)

English translation: Happy birthday to my boss, have a good life!

 

Example: 마스터의 생일을 축하합니다. 남은 인생을 즐기세요! (maseuteoui saeng-il-eul chughahabnida. nam-eun insaeng-eul jeulgiseyo!)

English translation: Happy birthday to the master, enjoy the rest of your life!

 

2. 생일 축하해요! (saengil chukahaeyo)

Just like 생일 축하합니다, above, this expression is also common in Korea and can also be seen on birthday cards but is slightly less formal than the 합니다 (hamnida) version. Saying 생일 축하해요 (saeng il chuk-ha hae yo) is a polite way to respectfully greet a person “Happy Birthday” in Korean. The phrase can also be used for people mentioned above.

Example: 생일 축하해요 아줌마, 더 많은 일들이 있기를 바랍니다! (saeng-il chughahaeyo ajumma, deo manh-eun ildeul-i issgileul balabnida!)

English translation: Happy Birthday Auntie, I wish you many more!

Informal/Casual ‘Happy Birthday’ in Korean

1. 생일 축하해! (saengil chukahae)

This is a less formal version of “happy birthday” and it is usually said to someone close to you and/or younger than you. You can use the expression for family, close friends, or someone of a similar age. The phrase is similar to (saengnil chukahaeyo), with the exception that the ending ‘(yo)’ is omitted. This makes it a lot more relaxed. Make good use of it!

Example: 생일 축하해 내 딸 장수와 번영을 기원합니다 (saeng-il chughahae nae ttal jangsuwa beon-yeong-eul giwonhabnida)

English translation: Happy birthday my daughter, wishing you long life and prosperity

 

Example: 생일 축하해 친구야, 멋진 생일을 보내렴 (saeng-il chughahae chinguya, meosjin saeng-il-eul bonaelyeom).

English translation: Happy birthday my friend, have a fabulous birthday.

 

Example: 마스터의 생일을 축하합니다. 남은 인생을 즐기세요! (saeng-il chughahae dongsaeng, geonbae!)

English translation: Happy birthday little brother, cheers!

Korean Age

Koreans have a unique way of counting their age. They don’t consider age on their actual birth date, but rather they all age together on the 1st of January of each year. Nevertheless, Koreans still celebrate their actual birthday and greet each other with “Happy Birthday”. This is an old Chinese tradition that Koreans still practice nowadays. They believe everyone gets one year older by the 1st of January. Also when the day a baby is born, they are automatically one year old

Special Birthdays

Birthdays are special events in Korean culture. In fact, the biggest celebration of all for Korean families is a child’s first birthday as it is believed to be closely related to the health and happiness of their newly added family member. In the past, the death rates for children were high and many children died before their first birthday, so it was an important milestone for the baby and parent.

photoby: Jamsong

The Korean birthday tradition that celebrates the first birthday of a baby is called Dol (돌) meaning “anniversary” or doljanchi (돌잔치) which means “first birthday anniversary”. The birthday babies wear a hanbok and a traditional hat: a jobawi (조바위) or gulle for baby girls and a bokgeon or hogeon (호건) for baby boys. The highlight of the dol (돌) is a custom called the doljabi (돌잡이) where the child is placed in front of a table of foods and objects such as string, paint or calligraphy brushes, ink, and money. The child is then urged to pick up an object from the table. It is believed the one selected will foretell the child’s future. For example, if the child picks up a paint/calligraphy brush or book, they are destined to be smart. If they pick up money, they will be wealthy; if they pick up food, they will not be hungry. If the child picks up the thread, it is believed they will live a long life. These items were used by most households in the past.

Another birthday that is significant in Korean culture is the 60th birthday, or Hwangap (환갑). This birthday is considered important because it marked the auspicious return to the year of birth after five times around the twelve-year lunar cycle. Prior to modern medicine, It was unusual for people to live to the age of sixty. Instead of throwing a major celebration, Koreans take trips with their families to celebrate, but the 70th  birthday, known as  Chilsun (칠순) is more important, this is when lavish feasts and parties are held. Both celebration parties are a wish for an even longer and more prosperous life. A Korean birthday party is never complete without some dishes which will be discussed below.

Birthday Traditions

Of course, birthdays are not complete without food. Koreans have special food that they eat and prepare during their birthdays.

Korean birthday food

One of the most important birthday dishes in Korean is 떡국 (Duk-Kook) or Rice Cake Soup. Koreans eat this on the morning of January 1st  to celebrate getting a year older. It has sliced rice cakes, meat boiled in a bone broth, and egg. And people say 새해 복 많이 받으세요 (sae-hae-bok ma-ni ba-duh-sae-yo*)* which means “I wish for you to have a lot of luck in the new year.

On the actual birthdays,  미역국 [mi-yuk-gook] (seaweed soup) is served, traditionally cooked by the mom. This dish consists of a bowl of rice, the meat of any choice (commonly beef), and a little bit of sesame oil, as well as some other side dishes.  Koreans also celebrate birthdays with cakes. They use candles to indicate their age. Long candles are meant for the first digit of their age, and short candles are for the last digit. For instance, if you are 28, there will be 2 long and 8 short candles on your cake.

photo by: korea.net

Gift giving and the 상부상조

When Koreans celebrate their birthdays, they often exchange gifts. However, large celebrations are not usually held for children; instead, parents bring cakes and little gift bags to school for their peers. They will gather around a cake and blow out the candles after making a wish, and unlike western-style birthdays, they will not disclose what their wish is. When kids become older, they start throwing parties and drinking with their pals at the bar. If you are invited to a birthday party, you may bring gifts and cakes. Elders would like to get cash for practical reasons. Koreans also have a tradition known as 상부상조(sang bu-sang-jo), which implies assisting one another with the goal of giving back. This is more significant than any other tangible gift since it represents real friendship. Birthday cards are also not often given.

Birthday hitting 생일빵

Aside from expressing Happy Birthday in Korean, another fascinating fact about the Koreans is the birthday hit. In Korean, this is known as 생일빵 (sang-il paang), and it allows them to strike the birthday celebrant for good luck. This is generally done by younger generations

New Generation Birthday Traditions

Nowadays, people, especially the younger generations between the age of 20-30 often go to a bar and have alcoholic drinks like 소주 (Soju) and 막걸리 (makoli) rice wine as a way of celebrating their birthdays. Soju is a clear liquid that almost looks like Vodka, and doesn’t have much flavor but has a little sweet taste to it. It varies in alcohol content (16.8% to 53%) and has a rubbing alcohol smell. These days Soju companies put out weaker Soju with fruity flavors. People drink Soju in a shot or mix it with beer as a 폭탄주 [pok-tan-ju] (bomb drink), while, Makoli is creamer and sweeter. Sticky rice wine is the most popular one. Traditionally it is served in a big bowl and you scoop it out with a ladle that is made of a gourd.

Drinking games

There is a lot of fun when you are in a gathering of younger people when they celebrate birthdays. They play different kinds of drinking games and be ready to drink if you lose the game. There are 3 commonly played games in Korean newly imbibed culture,  although there are a lot of them.

1. 세종대왕 [Sae-jong dae-wang] (King Sejong)

This game is played in honor of King Sejong who invented the Korean writing system. In this game, you are only allowed to use pure Korean words for some English words that don’t have a Korean equivalent. Such words include 컴퓨터 [com-pu-toh] (computer), 티비 [tee-bee] (TV), 컵 [cup] (cup), 포크 [po-kuh] (fork) and more, so it can really be very tricky. Whoever speaks English words has to drink.

2. 게임 오브대스 [gae-im o-buh dae-suh] (Game of Death)

The game of death involves everyone singing 재미난다 [jae-mi nan-da] (fun), 신난다 [shin nan-da] (exciting), 더 게임 오브 대스 [duh gae-im o-buh dae-suh] (The game of Death) while hitting the table with chopsticks. As soon as the song stops, everyone points their chopsticks at two separate persons. Beginning with the person who drank the most recently and work their way to see where it ends. Whoever is at the end of the chopstick chain must drink.

3. Three, six, nine Game

In this game, people gather around the table and begin counting up from one. Instead of stating it out, every 3, 6, and 9 individuals must clap. It becomes more difficult as the number increases in size, particularly 30, 60, and 90. Number 30 has a 3, thus they must clap once, whereas numbers 33, 36, and 39 must clap twice. Because no one announces the number 30, you must pay attention! Anyone who makes a mistake must drink.

Singing the Birthday Song

Birthdays are never complete in Korean without singing the birthday song. Friends and family gather around you to sing a Happy Birthday song for you. The song is usually sung before blowing the cake and making a wish. Let’s learn how to sing the birthday song in Korean, now that you have learned how to say Happy Birthday in Korean. The song and lyrics follow the same tune as “happy birthday” in English and are very easy to learn:

Korean happy birthday song lyrics:

[Formal/First Verse]

♩ ♪ ♫ 생일 축하합니다 (saengil chukahamnida) Happy birthday to you 생일 축하합니다 (saengil chukahamnida)Happy birthday to you 사랑하는 (insert name) 씨 (saranghaneun (insert name) ssi) dear (insert name) 생일 축하합니다 (saengil chukahamnida) Happy birthday to you

[Second Verse] 생일 축하합니다 생일 축하합니다 (saeng-il chukha-hamnida saeng-il chukha-hamni da)

Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you 지구에서 우주에서 제일 사랑합니다 (jigueseo wujueseo jeil saranghamnida) In the earth and whole universe, I love you most 꽃보다 더 곱게 별보다 더 밝게 (kkot boda deo gob ge, byeol boda deo balge) More beautiful than a flower, brighter than the stars 사자보다 용감하게saja boda yhong gam ha ge, More courageous than a lion, happy birthday to you 생일 축하합니다 생일 축하합니다 (saeng-il chukha-hamnida saeng-il chukha-hamnida)

Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you 꽃다운 내 친구야 굴고깁게 살아요 (kkotdaun nae chin-gu ya, gulgogibge sarayo) My friend who is similar to a flower. May you have longevity

♪ ♫

Now You are Ready to Celebrate Birthdays!

The Korean language is often considered to have the most logical writing system in the world. The language allows you to communicate with about 75 million people globally. If you are already trying to improve your Korean, here are two articles that will be helpful; the best way to learn Korean and online Korean course. Now that you know how to say and sing “happy birthday” in Korean, honorifics, the degree of formality when wishing happy birthday, how the Koreans count their age, special birthdays such as doljanchi, and what they eat and drink as well as the game they play. It’s time to go out and celebrate with your friends, family, classmates, and work associates! With AmazingTalker, you can learn to speak like a native so be sure to check out our Korean tutors. If you are interested in learning how to say happy birthday to your friends in their native language, our article on happy birthday in Spanish will be the perfect read for you. 

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