Unlock the Joy: How to Say Happy Birthday in Korean

Grover Laughton9 min
Created: Aug 30, 2023Last updated: Feb 14, 2024
How to Say Happy Birthday in Korean

Birthdays are universal festivities everyone can enjoy, regardless of where they’re from. They are special moments that unite people, and we all love celebrating them. While the concept of these days is the same worldwide, many unique customs and traditions differ across countries. In this guide, we’re going to explore the world of Korean birthday greetings and peculiarities. So buckle up, and get ready to learn how to wish a happy birthday in Korean!

The Basics of Korean Birthday Greetings

In English, we are used to wishing happy birthday using this phrase, regardless of the person we congratulate. The same thing goes for many other languages. In Korean, however, birthday greetings are quite different. And language is not only about words; it is also a window into a culture’s values and traditions. Therefore, let’s start by discussing the most important factors to keep in mind about happy birthday wishes in Korean. 

  • Significance of age. In Korean culture, an individual’s age can impact the choice of words used in greetings. For instance, the way you wish “Happy Birthday” to someone younger might differ from how you’d greet someone older. This cultural emphasis on age reflects the respect Koreans have for their elders.
  • Relationships matter. The nature of your relationship with the person celebrating their birthday also influences your choice of words. For close friends or family members, the casual and friendly 생일 축하해 (saengil chukha hae) is commonly used. However, more respectful phrases come into play when addressing teachers, supervisors, or those in authority.
  • Adding honorifics. In Korean, honorifics are linguistic markers of respect. Adding honorifics to your birthday greetings is a way to show deference and acknowledge the person’s status. These honorifics can be added to the standard birthday greetings to make them more polite and suitable for formal relationships.

By considering these cultural nuances, you can ensure that your birthday greetings are not only linguistically accurate but also culturally sensitive. Whether you’re addressing a close friend or someone in a formal setting, tailoring your wishes appropriately will showcase your appreciation for Korean culture and your efforts to communicate authentically.

How to Say Happy Birthday in Korean: The Most Common Ways

Celebrating birthdays in the Korean style is all about the right words and a touch of cultural finesse. From casual to formal, let’s explore the six most common phrases to wish someone a happy birthday in Korean formal, polite, and informal ways, ensuring your greetings hit the mark every time.

Formal Greetings

  • 생일 축하합니다 (Saengil Chukha Hamnida).

This phrase is an example of a perfect balance of courtesy and warmth. It is a polite and standard way to convey your birthday wishes. It’s ideal for individuals you’re not very familiar with.

[Name], 생일 축하합니다. ([Name], saengil chukha hamnida.)

[Name], Happy birthday.

  •  생신 축하드려요 (Saengsin Chukha Deuryeoyo).

This phrase is the epitome of formal respect. It’s used when addressing people who are older, higher in status, or in professional settings. This phrase is a traditional happy birthday with a strong sense of reverence. For example, if you’re congratulating your boss or a respected elder, this expression is the go-to choice.

존경하는 [Name]님, 생신 축하드려요. (Jonkyeonghaneun [Name]-nim, Saengsin Chukha Deuryeoyo.)

Respected [Name], Happy Birthday.

  • 생신 축하드립니다 (Saengsin Chukha Deurimnida).

This is another formal option that conveys congratulations on someone’s birthday. It’s a more traditional way of expressing birthday wishes and is well-suited for solemn occasions. Usually, it is used for people much older than you.

성원 가득한 한 해가 되시길 기원하며, 생신 축하드립니다. (Seongwon gadeukhan han haega doesigil giwonhamyeo, saengsin chukha deurimnida.)

Wishing you a year filled with blessings, Happy Birthday.

Informal Greetings

  • 생일 축하해요 (Saengil Chukha Hae-yo).

This phrase is a casual Happy Birthday in Korean for a friend, family member, or peer. It’s friendly and warm but still polite enough when congratulating people you are not very close with.

[Name], 생일 축하해요. ([Name], saengil chukha hae-yo.)

[Name], Happy birthday.

  • 생일 축하해 (Saengil Chukha Hae).

Embracing a casual and friendly tone, this phrase is perfect for your inner circle. It’s the most common example of birthday greetings among close friends.

[Name], 생일 축하해! ([Name], saengil chukha hae!)

Hey close friend, Happy birthday!

  • 생축 (Saengchuk).

The last phrase on our list is an ultra-casual slang term for “Happy Birthday.” Use it with friends who are comfortable with informal expressions. Mostly, this phrase is utilized in text messages and online chats.

오늘 생축! 술 마시러 가자! (Oneul saengchuk! Sul masireo gaja!).

Happy Birthday today! Let’s go grab a drink!

Exploring Formal and Informal Birthday Greetings in Korean

Unusual Korean Birthday Traditions

Now that you know different ways to wish someone Happy Birthday in Korean, it is time to move on to celebrations. While most of these festivities are the same as in other countries, there are many customs that might surprise you with their uniqueness. Let’s talk a bit more about Korean birthdays, shall we?

Korean Age and General Birthday

In Korea, a person is considered to be one year old at birth (because they were already alive in a womb). From there, an additional year is added to their age on each Lunar New Year’s Day, known as Seollal. This contrasts with the widely adopted international practice of incrementing age on each individual’s birthday.

To illustrate the Korean age calculation, let’s consider an example. Imagine someone is born on December 31st. According to international standards, they would turn one year older on their birthday. However, in the Korean age system, their age would increase by two years on the following January 1st. This seemingly minor difference results in the Korean age usually being one or two years older than the individual’s international age.

100-Day Celebration (Baek-il – 백일)

The Baek-il celebration marks a baby’s 100th day of life. Historically, this milestone was particularly significant due to high infant mortality rates. Making it to 100 days was a testament to a baby’s strength and health. Modern Baek-il ceremonies involve the family inviting guests to share their joy and offering blessings for the child’s future. Baek-il emphasizes the value of life and celebrates the baby’s successful passage through the early, vulnerable phase. It also underscores the close-knit nature of Korean families.

1-Year Birthday (Dol – 돌)

The Doljanchi celebration commemorates a child’s first birthday. The journey through the first year of life is acknowledged with a grand event. Central to this celebration is the “doljabi” ritual, where an array of symbolic items is placed before the child. These items include a book, money, thread, and rice. The child’s selection is believed to foretell their future path. For instance, choosing a book could signify an intellectual pursuit, while picking money may suggest future wealth.

The 1-year birthday reflects the significance of surviving the challenging first year of life. It’s a joyful occasion where family and friends come together to celebrate the child’s well-being and prosperity.

60th Birthday (Hwangap – 환갑):

Hwangap celebrates a person’s 60th birthday, considered a major life milestone. The term “hwangap” translates to “changing of the stem,” symbolizing a fresh start. In traditional Korean society, reaching 60 was a remarkable achievement, as it signified one full cycle of the zodiac calendar.

Hwangap highlights the concepts of rebirth and rejuvenation. It’s a time when children express their gratitude to their parents through special ceremonies and gifts. It also reflects the importance of family bonds and honoring elders.


Learn to Wish Happy Birthday in Korean with Promova

Many people believe that the Korean language is too hard to learn from scratch, and we can understand why. But even though it’s obvious that learning it might take more time and effort than some other languages, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible to become fluent in it!

Of course, fluency won’t just appear out of thin air. But with the right resources, you will be able to achieve it much faster and effectively. That is why we want to introduce you to the Promova app – your one-stop solution for mastering Korean. Here’s what you can expect from it:

  1. Flexibility and convenience. You can practice at your own pace, anywhere and anytime you want. We understand the busyness of the modern world and know how difficult it might be to find even a few minutes for practice. The Promova app allows you to learn whenever you want and wherever you can – during a break, riding in a cab, or right before getting back to bed.
  2. Personalized learning. After installing the application, you need to provide some information about your current level and language-learning goals. It allows us to create a personalized curriculum based on your needs and preferences. This approach gives you the opportunity to focus on materials that are really useful for you and avoid unnecessary information. 
  3. Variety of content. In Promova, we use different learning styles suitable for language learners. Therefore, our application provides various materials that can be especially helpful for people with different studying preferences. You access interactive lessons created by expert Korean teachers, quizzes, and exercises; you learn using flashcards, listening to audio materials, and much more.
  4. Progress tracking. Sometimes, it is quite hard to stay motivated, especially when learning something as challenging as the Korean language. But nothing keeps us motivated better than seeing our personal achievements. The Promova app allows you to monitor your progress and see most of your improvements.

The Promova app is available for both iOS and Android devices. So, don’t hesitate to go ahead and explore the world of our Korean language learning app – it’s a fantastic way to level up your language skills and vocabulary knowledge at the same time! And if you want to learn other languages, we have several available in the app, including French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and many others. 


Korean birthday traditions are deeply rooted in culture, conveying respect, connection, and community values. The diverse range of expressions, the uniqueness of age calculation, and the special significance of milestones contribute to the rich tapestry of Korean celebrations. 

In each festivity, whether through heartfelt greetings or meaningful customs, the essence of connection and appreciation shines through, making birthdays in this country a truly enriching experience. We hope that today you’ve learned something new for yourself. Also, have you ever been to Korea? Tell us about your experience in the comments!


What is an honorific language?

An honorific language is a linguistic system used in many cultures to express respect, politeness, and social hierarchy in communication. It involves employing specific words, phrases, and grammatical structures to convey deference towards individuals of higher status or age. Honorific language plays a crucial role in maintaining social harmony and reflecting cultural values.

What role does honorific language play in Korean birthday greetings?

In Korean culture, honorific language is a fundamental element of interpersonal interactions, including birthday greetings. When conveying birthday wishes, the choice of honorifics reflects the level of respect and familiarity between the speaker and the recipient. Using appropriate honorific expressions in these greetings is a way to acknowledge the recipient’s age, status, and relationship.

What are some common birthday-related phrases in Korean?

There are so many of them! The most popular ones include 오늘 생일이네요 (Oneul Saengil Ineyo) – it’s your birthday today – a simple and friendly way to acknowledge someone’s special day; 건강과 행운이 함께하기를 (Geongang-gwa Haenguni Hamkkehagireul) – may health and luck be with you – a common blessing offered in birthday greetings.

How do Koreans celebrate when a person reaches their adult age?

In Korea, the transition to adulthood is celebrated on a person’s 20th birthday, known as “Coming of Age Day.” This day signifies the legal age for voting, drinking, and other adult responsibilities. On this occasion, young adults often wear traditional clothing called “hanbok” and participate in ceremonies and events organized by the local community or government. It’s a momentous celebration of reaching a new stage of life and embracing adult responsibilities.


PromovaSep 7th, 2023
Sure! Even numbers are considered lucky in Korean culture, while odd numbers are associated with funerals and sadness. So, when giving money as a gift, it's common to use even numbers to bring good luck and happiness to the recipient.
Ava PowellSep 7th, 2023
The article mentions that giving money in even-numbered amounts is a tradition. Can you explain why even numbers are preferred?