HAPPY BIRTHDAY in Italian – How We Say, Sing, and Write it

Are you getting ready to call your Italian cousin to wish her a happy birthday? 

Will you be celebrating your son’s birthday while on vacation in Italy?

Are you writing a birthday card for your Italian work colleague?

In any of these situations, you’ll want to know how we say Happy Birthday in Italian.

QUICK ANSWER:
Buon Compleanno! or Auguri!

Listen to the pronunciation of both here:

Now let’s look at:

  • More details on how we say happy birthday in Italian
  • When to wish someone a happy birthday here in Italy
  • How to wish someone a belated happy birthday in Italian
  • Important birthdays in Italy
  • How to respond if someone wishes you a happy birthday
  • How we celebrate birthdays in Italy
  • The Italian version of the happy birthday song
  • How to write happy birthday in Italian
  • Italian birthday vocabulary and phrases

How to Say Happy Birthday in Italian

BUON COMPLEANNO – A Common Way to Say Happy Birthday in Italian

Buon Compleanno in Italian translates to ‘Happy Birthday’ in English.

Do you have an Italian friend or partner celebrating a birthday soon? Then you might want to wish them ‘buon compleanno.

You can follow it up with a term of endearment:

Buon compleanno amicoHappy birthday my friend (to a male)
Buon compleanno amicaHappy birthday my friend (to a female)
Buon compleanno belloHappy birthday mate/pal/handsome (to a male – informal)
Buon compleanno bellaHappy birthday beautiful (to a girl – informal)
Buon compleanno caroHappy birthday dear (to a male)
Buon compleanno caraHappy birthday dear (to a female)
Buon compleanno tesoroHappy birthday darling (to a male)
Buon compleanno tesoroHappy birthday darling (to a female)
Buon compleanno ragazzoHappy birthday kid (male)
Buon compleanno ragazzaHappy birthday kid (female)
Buon compleanno figlio mioHappy birthday son
Buon compleanno figlia miaHappy birthday daughter

Origins of the Italian Word Compleanno:

For once there’s an Italian word that doesn’t come from Latin or even Greek.  The word compleanno comes from Spanish!  Compleanno is a combination of the verb cumplir and the noun año giving rise to the word cumpleaño. We also use the phrase ‘compiere gli anni’ in Italian (it means to have a birthday or literally ‘to achieve years’).

Good To Know:  There is actually a word with the same meaning in the Italian language that comes from Greek: genetliaco.  But it’s pretty much obsolete unless you’re talking about the illustrious birthday of some former king or emperor!

AUGURI – Another Common Way to Say Happy Birthday in Italian

Strangely enough, although compleanno means birthday and buon compleanno is the direct translation of ‘Happy Birthday,’ an even more common way to wish people happy birthday is Auguri.

Auguri literally means ‘wishes’ (as in ‘best wishes’).

Good To Know:  The song “Happy birthday to you” translates in Italian as “Tanti auguri a te!”

You can also use a few variations of Auguri:

Tanti augurilots of wishes
Auguronihuge wishes (informal)
Tantissimi auguriloads of wishes

They’re all just way of saying that the wishes are getting bigger and more heartfelt!

Good To Know:  You’ll often see Buon Compleanno or Auguri written on a birthday cake or a birthday card.

Auguri can also be used in other situations. For example, you can use it to wish someone:

  • A Merry Christmas
  • A Happy Easter
  • A Happy New Year
  • Good luck (especially with something challenging or if someone’s in a difficult situation!)
  • ‘All the best’

In some parts of Italy that border other countries (Trentino-Alto Adige and Austria; Valle d’Aosta and France) where speakers may be bilingual, you might hear buon compleanno in German (Alles Gute zum Geburtstag) or French (bon/joyeux anniversaire).

When to Say Happy Birthday in Italian

Now you know what to say, but when do you say it?

You can wish someone a buon compleanno or say auguri when you arrive at their birthday party on the day of the birthday itself.

In Italy, there’s a superstition that it brings bad luck to wish someone a happy birthday early (i.e. before the day itself)!

This is something that Italy shares with many other countries. Pope Frances (who was born in Argentina to Italian parents on December 17th) was wished a happy birthday during an audience on December 14th and his reply was:

Ma vi farò ridere. Fare gli auguri in anticipo porta la jella. E chi fa gli auguri in anticipo è un jettatore.

“I’ll tell you something that’ll make you laugh. Wishing someone a happy birthday early is a jinx. And anyone who does it is a jinxer.”

How to Say Happy Belated Birthday

If you’ve missed someone’s birthday you can say:

Buon compleanno in ritardoHappy belated birthday
Auguri in ritardo  Happy belated birthday
Dimenticare un compleanno non significa dimenticare una persona. Auguri, anche se in ritardo!Forgetting a birthday doesn’t mean forgetting a person! Happy birthday even though it’s late!

Good To Know:  Even if you missed someone’s birthday, you can make it up to them by sending wishes on their onomastico, or their name day. These are also saints’ days.

These are some of the most important ones in Italy:

DATENAME/SAINTNOTES
13th DecemberLuciaSanta Lucia, Il giorno più corto che ci sia! (St. Lucy’s day is the shortest day of the year.)  
19th MarchGiuseppeSt. Joseph’s Day is also Father’s Day in Italy.  
11th AugustChiaraSt. Clare of Assisi is one of the most important Italian saints.
4th OctoberFrancescoFrancis of Assisi is Italy’s patron saint along with Catherine of Siena.
10th AugustLorenzoSan Lorenzo is the night of the falling stars.

Formal vs. Informal Ways to Say Happy Birthday in Italian

Buon compleanno and auguri can be used both formally and informally. It all depends on context and any phrases that follow.

For example, if you wanted to wish a work colleague a happy birthday you could say:

Sinceri auguri di buon compleanno. (formal)
Sincere wishes for a happy birthday.

While wishing your niece a happy birthday, you could say:

Buon compleanno tesoro! (informal)
Happy birthday darling!

Important Birthdays in Italy

Around the world, certain birthdays are more important than others.  Here in Italy, your 18th and 40th birthdays are huge milestones.

1stIl primo compleanno (my first birthday); baby’s (or your dog’s!) first birthday is always a milestone
10thYou’re in double figures!
13thYou’re a teenager!
14thYou can drive a small motorbike; you’re no longer a child in the eyes of the law
16thYou can get married, leave school and start work (with your parents’ consent)
18thYou’re officially an adult (you can vote, drive, purchase alcohol, and do all of the above autonomously!)
40thFrom now on all your ages will end in ‘anta’ (quaranta, cinquanta, etc.)
50thYou’ve made it to half a century; un’età che incanta (a charming age)
60thYou’re 60 but you don’t feel like it …e non sentirli!
70thYou may be approaching pensionable age in Italy if you’re lucky (unless you were born in the 1950s – in that case you’ll have been getting your pension since you were 45).
80thIn any other country in the world, you’d be old – in Italy not particularly. We have the longest lifespans in Europe!
90thYou’re still pretty young. You haven’t beaten la regina Elisabetta (Queen Elisabeth) yet.  
100thUn secolo intero (a whole century) – it’s a fantastic milestone. The entire town celebrates, and you get your photo in the local newspaper. But sorry, you’re not really unique – you’re joining another 18,000 centenarians in Italy!

How to Respond When Someone Wishes You Happy Birthday in Italian

If someone wishes you ‘buon compleanno’ you can say:

Grazie! Thanks!
Grazie mille!Thanks a lot! (literally ‘a thousand thanks!’)
Grazie di cuore!Thanks with all my heart/from the bottom of my heart!

Celebrating a Birthday in Italy – Festeggiare il Compleanno

Boy blowing out candles on a birthday cake in Italy.

For a long time, the Catholic and Christian churches generally opposed birthday celebrations, because they were considered pagan! They began in ancient Egypt and were adopted in Greece and Rome. The onomastico (name day or saint’s day) was preferred by the Church as it was linked to Christianity and not to pagan rituals.

In present-day Italy we celebrate with cakes, cards, gifts, candles, balloons, and parties!

When We Sing Happy Birthday in Italian

We sing ‘Tanti Auguri a Te’ (Happy Birthday to You) to both adults and children. If a birthday celebration takes place in a restaurant, everyone will sing along, whether they know the festeggiato/a (birthday boy or girl) or not!

At the end of the song, the festeggiato/a blows out the candles on the cake and makes a wish.

Good To Know:  We have the Greeks to thank for blowing out candles.  It’s said that this custom comes from the worship of Artemis and the Moon. Offerings were brought to the goddess in the form of sweets made of honey and flour and candles were added to represent the light of the moon.

The Happy Birthday Song in Italian

ITALIAN SONG
Tanti auguri a te
Tanti auguri a te
Tanti giorni felici
Tanti auguri a te!

ENGLISH SONG
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday, dear ….
Happy birthday to you

Perché è un Bravo Ragazzo Song – An Alternative to the Happy Birthday Song

As well as Tanti Auguri a Te you might also hear ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ (Perché è un bravo ragazzo) at an adult Italian birthday party.

ITALIAN SONG
Perché è un bravo ragazzo
Perché è un bravo ragazzo
Perché è un bravo ragazzo,
Nessuno lo può negar [OR E tutti lo vogliono ben’]

ENGLISH SONG
For he’s a jolly good fellow          
For he’s a jolly good fellow,
For he’s a jolly good fellow
That nobody can deny [OR And so say all of us]

How to Write Happy Birthday in Italian

The simplest ways to write happy birthday in Italian would be:

Buon compleanno, Stefano!
Happy birthday, Stefano!

Auguri, Martina!
Happy birthday, Martina!

Birthday Cards in Italy

Like most places, sending a birthday card in the mail has become less common in Italy.  But, Italians always attach a card (even a tiny one) to a birthday gift. 

You can write a personal message or include a birthday phrase or saying.

Good To Know:  Of course, as well as a greeting card, you can also send your wishes via text, Whatsapp or email. 

Italian Birthday Quotes and Sayings

Cento di questi giorni!
(I hope you celebrate) A hundred days like this one.

Tanti auguri di buon compleanno.
Very best wishes for a great birthday.

Sembri piu giovane che mai.
You look younger than ever.

Conta gli anni, non le rughe!
Count the years, not the wrinkles!

Diventare vecchi è obbligatorio, crescere è opzionale.
Growing old is compulsory, growing up is optional.

Sei come il vino: più invecchia, più diventa buono.
You’re aging like fine wine. The older you get, the better you get.

Ti auguro tutto il meglio per l’anno a venire.
I wish you all the best for the coming year.

Ti auguro un meraviglioso compleanno!
I hope you have a wonderful birthday!

Gli anni non passano per essere contati, ma per essere festeggiati! 
Don’t count the passing years, celebrate them instead!

Gli anni passano ma tranquillo, tu dimostri solo quelli migliori.
The years are passing but don’t worry – I can only see your best ones.

Celebra sempre l’età che senti, non quello che rappresenti!
Always celebrate the age you feel, not what it represents.

Alla fine ciò che conta non sono gli anni della tua vita, ma la vita che metti in quegli anni.
At the end of the day, what counts is not the years of your life, but the life you put into those years.

Studi scientifici hanno dimostrato che le persone che festeggiano più compleanni vivono più a lungo.
Studies have shown that people who celebrate more birthdays live longer.

Helpful Italian Birthday Words and Phrases

compleannobirthday
annoyear
festaparty
festeggiata/obirthday girl/boy
regalogift
nastroribbon
auguriwishes
biglietto di auguribirthday card
torta di compleannobirthday cake
candelinecandles
brindisi di compleannobirthday toast
festa a sorpresasurprise party
invitoinvitation
pallonciniballoons
Quanti anni compi?How old are you turning?
Quando è il tuo compleanno?When is your birthday?
Qual è il tuo desiderio di compleanno?What’s your birthday wish?
Cosa vuoi per il tuo compleanno?What do you want for your birthday?

FAQ

How do you wish someone happy birthday in Italian?
You can say buon compleanno or auguri!

Do you say tanti auguri or buon compleanno for an Italian birthday?
You can say both. Tanti auguri is even more common than buon compleanno.

What are good Italian wishes?
You can say auguri to mean ‘good wishes or best wishes’ in Italy.

How do you say happy birthday my friend in Italian?
Say buon compleanno amico (for a male) and buon compleanno amica (for a female).

Can I say felice compleanno to wish someone a happy birthday in Italian?
Although literally ‘Happy Birthday,’ felice compleanno is not used in Italy.  Instead, we prefer to say auguri or buon compleanno.