How to Say Happy Birthday in Korean: 3 Best Ways

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Written By Jessica Knight

Founder of Linguatics. Passionate multilinguist.

This guide will teach you how to say Happy Birthday in Korean. 

There are multiple ways to say “Happy Birthday” in Korean and there is even a happy birthday verb which you can use in different situations. 

Of course, we will teach you how to sing the famous “Happy Birthday” song in Korea, so don’t worry you will definitely be able to get some singing practice in before someone’s big day. 

No matter if you simply want to wish someone you know a “Happy Birthday” or really get the party started with a song, this guide will break down everything you need to know about how to wish someone well on their birthday. 

As you probably know by now, the Korean language is based on a hierarchical structure and so the words you say will change depending on how formal you need to be in a given situation.

Therefore it is important to know all the different forms of “Happy Birthday” so you can send birthday wishes to someone no matter who you are addressing. 

Knowing words and phrases, like“Happy Birthday”, that go beyond the basic greetings will certainly make a positive impression when you are visiting Korea or speaking to someone in Korean. So get studying and practicing this specific but simple “Happy Birthday” vocabulary!

How to Say Happy Birthday in Korean at a Glance 

  • Birthday (standard):  생일 (saengil)
  • Birthday (formal): 생신 (saengsin) 
  • Happy birthday (formal): 생신을 축하드립니다 (saengsineul chukadeurimnida)
  • Happy birthday (standard): 생일 축하합니다 (saengil chukahamnida) 
  • Happy birthday (standard): 생일 축하해요! (saengil chukahaeyo) 
  • Happy birthday (informal) 생일 축하해 (saengil chukahae) 

생일 (Saengil) – “Birthday” in Korean

If you simply want to say the word “birthday” in Korean you would use “생일 saengil”.

“생일 Saengil” can be used when referring to your own birthday or when talking about the birthday of someone who is of the same social standing as you. For example, someone who is of a similar age or younger than you. 

If you wanted to say “birthday” when referring to the birthday of someone who is a lot older than you you should say “생신 saengsin” instead.

You would use “생신 saengsin” when talking with, or about the birthday of, your grandparents or other older relatives. 

The word “birthday” is actually a word that has an honorific version. You need to use honorifics when talking to people who are a generation, or more, older than you yourself. 

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These special Korean words that have honorific forms are very useful to be aware of. Other words with this form include the nouns, “house” and “age” and the verbs “to sleep”, “to exist” and “to eat”. 

How to Say “Happy Birthday” in Korean

There are three main ways to say “Happy Birthday” in Korean that use the formal, standard, and informal forms respectively. 

Depending on who you are speaking to you should change the level of formality of your “Happy Birthday”. Below we break down each one. 

생신을 축하드립니다 (Saengsineul Chukadeurimnida) – Formal “Happy Birthday” in Korean

“생신을 축하드립니다 Saengsineul chukadeurimnida” is the formal version of “Happy Birthday”. 

When you want to say “Happy Birthday” to people who are older than you, you would use this formal version since it uses the formal word for “birthday”. 

Breaking down each part of the word, “축하하다 chukahada” means “celebrate” or “to congratulate”. “축하하다 Chukahada” is combined with the formal version “to give”, which is “드리다 deurida”, to create “congratulations”. 

The formality of the phrase “생신을 축하드립니다 Saengsineul chukadeurimnida” will be useful when you want to show a lot of respect to the person that you are giving birthday wishes to. For example, with your grandparents or a senior figure at your job or your university. 

Obviously, this phrase is the most respectful way to say “Happy Birthday” and will certainly be too formal when giving birthday wishes to someone who you know or with who you are very close. 

In these cases, you would use the standard and informal forms of “Happy Birthday” which are broken down below.  

생일 축하합니다 (Saengil Chukahamnida) – Standard “Happy Birthday” in Korean

You can say “Happy Birthday” in two different ways using the standard form, the first way is “생일 축하합니다! saengil chukahamnida”.

Using the standard form is the most common way to wish someone a “Happy Birthday” since it is not overly formal but is still polite which is exactly what makes the perfect birthday greeting. 

For this reason “생일 축하합니다! saengil chukahamnida” is a phrase that can be used in most situations and is what you will often see on birthday cards in Korea. 

Although “생일 축하합니다! saengil chukahamnida” is not overly formal is the most polite out of the two standard phrases.

You can take the word “축하합니다 chukahamnida” out of the phrase “생일 축하합니다 (saengil chukahamnida” and it will still make sense on its own. This is because “축하합니다 chukahamnida”  means “to congratulate”. 

So if you want to congratulate someone on something other than their birthday, for example achieving good grades, you can simply say “축하합니다 chukahamnida”.  

생일 축하해요! (Saengil Chukahaeyo) – Standard “Happy Birthday” in Korean

The second standard version of “Happy Birthday” is “생일 축하해요! saengil chukahaeyo”. 

This phrase is another polite way to wish someone a “Happy Birthday” and is therefore very common and can be used in most situations.  

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You will also often see “생일 축하해요! saengil chukahaeyo” on Korean birthday cards since it is the standard version so it acts as a nice polite greeting than can be given to the majority of people.

This version is the less formal version of the two standard phrases so can be used to wish people you are closer to “Happy Birthday” if you still want to be polite. 

As you can already see, the romanization of “생일 축하해요!” is saengil chukahaeyo” and this is the most common way you will see “Happy Birthday” written when using the English alphabet and not Korean Hangul characters. 

If you want to just remember one way to say “Happy Birthday” then either of the standard phrases “축하합니다 chukahamnida” or “생일 축하해요! saengil chukahaeyo” are what you should learn.  

생일 축하해 (Saengil Chukahae) – Informal “Happy Birthday” in Korean

If you want to wish your friends a “Happy Birthday” and be more personal than just a polite greeting, you would use the informal form which is “생일 축하해! saengil chukahae”.

This informal version of “Happy Birthday” is very similar to the standard phrase “생일 축하해요! saengil chukahaeyo”, in fact, all you have to do is drop the final “요 yo” to create the informal form. 

Dropping the “요 yo” from standard words is a common way to create informal phrases, but use this skill wisely as it significantly reduces the formality of the word! 

Although you may think that being casual or informal is rude or only for use with your friends, using this low level of formality in the correct way can actually be beneficial. 

Using the informal version of phrases will effectively communicate to someone how close they are to you, which can be a compliment. 

For this reason, you can use “생일 축하해! saengil chukahae” with close friends, younger children, your significant other, your spouse, or your siblings. 

“생일 축하해! Saengil chukahae” allows you to speak to people you are close with in a more personal way that better reflects your relationship with them and in a way that the more formal options don’t allow. 

Of course, this phrase is still too informal to be used with people more senior than you or with those who you are not close with but it is still very useful to know. 

How to Write “Happy Birthday” in Korean

Below we have clearly laid out how to write Korean birthday greetings in Hangul:

“Happy Birthday” in Korean (formal): 

생신을 축하드립니다

“Happy Birthday” in Korean (standard): 

생일 축하합니다  or 생일 축하해요

“Happy Birthday” in Korean (informal): 

생일 축하해

Birthday’s in Korea

Even though learning how to say “Happy Birthday” in Korean is important, it is just as important to understand the different beliefs, practices, and traditions surrounding birthdays and their celebrations in Korea. 

Korean Birthday Food

A common food that is eaten on people’s birthdays in Korea is seaweed soup “미역국 miyeokguk”. Seaweed soup is actually a food that Korean mothers will eat during their pregnancies hence its relation to birthdays.

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Much like in other cultures, in Korea, people’s friends or co-workers will buy them a birthday cake for their birthday.

The cake will then be shared out and eaten as a group by all people in attendance, whether co-workers, friends, or loved ones. 

When you go to buy a cake in Korea, you will usually be asked how many candles you need. The word for candle in Korean is “양초 yangcho” and these will be placed in the cake box along with matches to light them. 

Korean Birthday Party

A child’s first birthday in Korea is very important and a big party is thrown called 돌잔치 (doljanchi) to bless the child with a prosperous future. 

This Korean tradition stems from the past rates of high infant mortality which made the first birthday very significant and a perfect time for blessings. 

As part of the 돌잔치 (doljanchi) the child who is celebrating their first birthday is placed in front of various items and encouraged to grab some of them. Whatever they pick is meant to represent what the future will hold for the child in terms of career or lifestyle. 

You may be invited to parties like this when in Korea as it is a big occasion and so it is good to be aware of such birthday traditions like this. 

Korean Birthday Song

It is relatively simple to learn the Korean birthday song as it will be familiar to those who know the tune of the English “Happy Birthday” song. Obviously, the only difference is the words that are used are Korean words, not English ones. 

So below we have transcribed the Korean birthday song to be sung to the classic “Happy Birthday” tune we all know.

Happy Birthday Song in Korean

♩ ♪ ♫

생일 축하합니다

생일 축하합니다

사랑하는 (insert name here) 씨

생일 축하합니다

♪ ♫

saengil chukahamnida

saengil chukahamnida

saranghaneun (insert name) ssi

saengil chukahamnida

A Word of Caution About Romanization

Throughout this guide we have used the Korean Hangul alphabet “한글 hangeul)” as well as the romanized versions of the words using the English alphabet to help you will reading and pronouncing the phrases

However, it is always best to learn Korean Hangul to allow you to find the correct pronunciation and be sure what you’re saying is correct. 

Learning Hangul will also help with reading Korean when in Korea and will allow you to massively speed up your learning process once you spot common patterns and themes.  So it is always advisable to take your learning further and learn the Korean alphabet. 

How to Say Happy Birthday in Korean – Video Guide

Happy Birthday in Korean – Final Thoughts

Happy Birthday is a great phrase to know in Korean and it allows you to add a bit of joy to someone’s birthday celebrations regardless of the language barrier. 

Now you know all the different ways to say “Happy Birthday” in Korean no matter who you are wishing a “Happy Birthday”. You also know how to sing “Happy Birthday” so you can join in with the birthday fun and sing along with everyone else! 

Of course, all there is left for you to do is find yourself someone with a birthday and celebrate with them. Enjoy! 

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