It’s one thing to find out it’s your friend’s birthday. It’s quite another to think you’d get away without wishing them a happy birthday. And if your friend speaks French, then it would certainly be nicer if you knew how to say Happy Birthday in French!
In this post we’ll go over the basics of wishing someone a joyeux anniversaire, which is your easiest bet on how to say Happy Birthday in French. We’ll also look at a few other options depending on the context and whether you’re in Europe or Québec. For good measure, we’ll even introduce a different Happy Birthday song in French for both sides of the Atlantic!
Joyeux Anniversaire vs Bon Anniversaire
There are two main expressions to say Happy Birthday in French: Joyeux Anniversaire and Bon Anniversaire. You can really use either one interchangeably, though each has its own little nuances. Let’s take a look at each one.
Joyeux Anniversaire translates directly as “joyful birthday,” so this version of Happy Birthday in French is fairly upbeat. When we wish someone a Joyeux Anniversaire, our tone of voice always sounds positive or even excited. This is definitely the French Happy Birthday wish to use when you really mean it.
A note on how to pronounce Joyeux Anniversaire… It may sound like people are pronouncing “joyeuse anniversaire,” using the feminine form of the adjective. The French noun “anniversaire” is masculine though, so we use the masculine form of the adjective “joyeux” to match. Since it starts with a vowel we need to pronounce the X to make the liaison, so the phrase ends up sounding like “joyeusanniversaire.”
Bon anniversaire translates literally as “good birthday. It’s just as common as our previous phrase, but can be used a lot more generally. We definitely wish Bon Anniversaire to our friends and family, though this is also the French Happy Birthday phrase to be used when you need to acknowledge the birthday of a colleague or an acquaintance.
On how to pronounce Bon Anniversaire, it follows the same logic as Joyeux Anniversaire to connect the two words, but this time by pronouncing the N at the end of Bon. It really comes out sounding like one word: “bonaniversaire.”
Happy Birthday in Québec: Bonne Fête!
So far we’ve covered Joyeux Anniversaire and Bon Anniversaire, both of which can be used with French speakers anywhere. In Québec, however, there’s yet another expression which is way more common: Bonne Fête! Of course you can still use either of the expressions we saw above if you want to wish your québécois friends a Happy Birthday, though locally everyone usually sticks with Bonne Fête.
“Fête” in English translates literally as “party” or “celebration,” so this is obviously a festive and good-natured expression. Sometimes people even drag out the pronunciation to give each of the words two syllables and really accentuate the québecois birthday wishes!
Expressing Birthday Wishes in French
The three fundamental expressions we’ve seen so far can all be used on their own to wish someone a Happy Birthday in French, though of course you can always elaborate further. Here are a few other common expressions for expressing birthday wishes in French:
- Je te souhaite un joyeux anniversaire. – I wish you a happy birthday.
- Passe un bon anniversaire! – Have a lovely birthday!
- Je te souhaite plein de bonheur. – I wish you loads of happiness.
- Que ta journée soit pleine de bonheur et de joie! – May your day be filled with joy and happiness!
- Nous vous souhaitons nos meilleurs voeux. – We wish you our best wishes.
Happy Belated Birthday in French
So what happens if you somehow find out after the day? Or if you get to meet up with them afterwards? In other words, how do you say Happy Belated Birthday in French?
Well, we just admit that we’re late with our wishes by adding en retard or tardif, both of which just mean “late.”
- Joyeux Anniversaire en retard! – Happy Belated Birthday.
- Bon Anniversaire tardif! – Happy Belated Birthday.
The Happy Birthday Song in French
“Happy Birthday to you!!!” This must be one of the most-sung songs in the English language, and its French equivalent is no exception. If you’re familiar with the English version, you’ll certainly recognize the French Happy Birthday song because it’s almost exactly the same!
To sing the Happy Birthday song in French, we just replace “Happy Birthday to you” with “Joyeux Anniversaire” in all four lines. The only awkward bit is in the third line where in English you say the person’s name instead of “to you.” No worries though, we just quickly squeeze their name in there. Anyway, everyone’s always in a good mood when we sing the Happy Birthday song, in French just as in English!
Here’s the French Happy Birthday song, sung for our friend Stéphanie:
Joyeux anniversaire Stéphanie!
The Happy Birthday Song in Québec
Well, as we saw above with Bonne Fête, there’s also a specific québécois birthday song that you’re likely to encounter when you join in on birthday celebrations in Québec. It’s actually taken from a famous line of a very nostalgic tune called “Gens du Pays” by one of the province’s legends, Gilles Vigneault, expressing respect and admiration for the québécois people.
The birthday song version has the same sentiment, but aimed at our friend whose birthday we’re celebrating. Let’s see these simple lines sung for our friend Stéphanie, followed by the English translation:
“Ma chère Stéphanie,
C’est à ton tour,
De te laisser
“My dear Stéphanie,
It’s your turn,
To let yourself
Speak of love.”
This song is obviously very sentimental, usually just sung among friends and family. It’s almost always immediately followed by the “Joyeux anniversaire” song we saw above, setting a more festive tone to the bonne fête atmosphere. To keep the positive mood going, it’s not unusual for French-speaking québécois to even throw in an English version of the “Happy Birthday” song for good measure!
We’ve covered quite a lot here, for such a straightforward topic of how to say Happy Birthday in French. The fundamentals you need to remember are Joyeux Anniversaire and Bon Anniversaire, while if you’re in Canada you should also be familiar with Bonne Fête. We went over pronunciation, we covered how to wish a Happy Belated Birthday in French by simply adding en retard or tardif to our preferred phrase, and we saw a few other French birthday expressions. Finally, we learned the ubiquitous birthday song in French, as well as the sentimental québécois birthday song sung among close friends and family.
We hope you feel confident with these vital expressions for the next time you’re celebrating a birthday with your French friends or colleagues: you’re ready to wish them a Joyeux Anniversaire!