Would you like to learn how to say “happy birthday” in Italian?
Maybe you want to say “Happy Birthday” in Italian to give a smile to your Italian partner or friends on their special day. Or it might be because you’re planning a trip to Italy, and who knows if you’ll be invited to some birthday party there? There’s no such thing as an unexpected guest in Italian homes, so you might even get a last-minute invitation.
Italians are jovial people who love to celebrate and have a good time with their family and friends. Pair this with their world-famous cuisine, and you can imagine how cool it must be to attend an Italian birthday party.
Let me help you prepare for the celebrations!
How to Say “Birthday” in Italian: Compleanno
In English, the word “birthday” is made up of the nouns “birth” and “day”. In Italian, the word for “birthday” is also a compound word: compleanno.
Compleanno comes from the Spanish word cumpleaños (“birthday”). If we break compleanno down, we get comple from the Spanish verb cumplir (“to carry out”, or in this case, “to complete”) and anno from the Spanish noun año (“year”).
While in English the word explicitly describes the day of your birth, in Italian it’s the day that marks the full completion of one more year of your life.
How to Say “Happy Birthday” in Italian: Buon Compleanno
How do you say “Happy Birthday” in Italian?
“Happy birthday” translated to Italian in a literal way would be felice compleanno, as felice means “happy” in Italian.
However, Italians don’t wish a happy birthday, but a good one. They say buon compleanno (literally “good birthday”).
Buon/a replaces “happy” in many other special-event greetings.
- Buon Anno Nuovo – “Happy New Year”
- Buon San Valentino – “Happy Valentine’s Day”
- Buona Pasqua – “Happy Easter”
How to Say “Date of Birth” in Italian: Data di Nascita
“Birthday” and “birthdate” aren’t the same thing. While the first is a recurrent yearly event, the second represents the exact date when you were born, year and all. There’s only one date of birth for each of us while we have had as many birthdays as we are old.
If you’re worried about confusing the two in Italian, rest assured that it’s nearly impossible.
Like English, in Italian, data di nascita (“birthdate”) is made up of the words data (“date”), di (“of”), and nascita (“birth”). Simple!
How to Wish a Happy Non-Birthday in Italian: Buon Non Compleanno!
What if you can’t wait to wish a happy birthday in Italian, but none of your friends or relatives are celebrating theirs?
Try out the Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter-style phrase and wish them instead un buon non compleanno (“a happy non birthday”)!
How to Say “Best Wishes” in Italian: Tanti Auguri
Buon compleanno is “happy birthday” in English, but Italians often use alternative phrases to greet the birthday person. Tanti auguri is the most popular one.
What does tanti auguri mean? If we were to literally translate it to English, tanti auguri would be “many wishes”. However, its meaning is closer to “best wishes”.
Note: As you see, tanti auguri doesn’t include the word compleanno, so it’s not only for birthdays. Actually, it’s the joker card when it comes to Italian greetings. You can use it to express your best wishes on Christmas as well as on New Years or Women’s Day.
You may also simply say Auguri! (literally “wishes”) or add the suffix -oni to make the wishes bigger: Auguroni!
How to Say “I Wish You a Happy Birthday” in Italian: Ti Auguro un Buon Compleanno
You’ve learnt that “wishes” is auguri in Italian, so it’ll be easy to remember that “to wish” is augurare.
To tell the birthday person “I wish you a happy birthday”, you would say Ti auguro un buon compleanno.
But what if you wanted to say we wish you a happy birthday to several people at the same time? Or if you wanted to express someone else’s wishes? You would have to modify the phrase accordingly.
First, let’s see how to conjugate the verb augurare, which belongs to the first group of Italian verbs.
- (io) auguro – “I wish”
- (tu) auguri – “you wish” (informal singular second person)
- (lui, lei or Lei) augura – “he/she wishes” or “you wish” (formal singular second person)
- (noi) auguriamo – “we wish”
- (voi) augurate – “you wish” (plural second person)
- (loro) augurano – “they wish”
To complete the phrase, you have to choose the correct indirect pronoun.
- io → mi (“to me”)
- tu → ti (“to you”)
- lui → gli (“to him”)
- lei, Lei → le, Le (“to her” or “to you”, formal singular form)
- noi → ci (“to us”)
- voi → vi (“to you”, plural form)
- loro → gli (“to them”)
- Vi auguriamo un buon compleanno – “We wish you a happy birthday.”
- Mia madre le augura un buon compleanno, signore – “My mother wishes you a happy birthday, Sir.”
Happy Birthday in Italian: Song Version
The Italian birthday song is used as much as the English one, and on the same occasions: by phone call, to begin a surprise party, before cutting the birthday cake, etc.
So, what’s the Italian birthday song like? It’s very easy to learn now that you know how to say best wishes in Italian.
Here are the lyrics. Sing with the same tune you would in English:
Tanti auguri a te, tanti auguri a te, tanti auguri, tanti auguri a te!
Note: Tanti auguri a te means “best birthday wishes to you*.
Italian Birthday Traditions
Italians celebrate birthdays in a similar fashion to many other countries, but they also have their own quirks when it comes to birthday parties.
So, let’s talk about some Italian birthday traditions.
Which is the Most Important Birthday for Italians?
Italians tend to celebrate 18th birthdays in a bigger fashion because that’s the day they officially hit adulthood!
The style and size of the party depend on the person, but it’s almost always as big as possible.
Tirare Le Orecchie
There’s an old Italian birthday tradition where the guests pull the birthday person’s ears one time for every birthday they’ve had until the one they’re celebrating.
It’s more of a joke nowadays, but if you hear someone saying that they should tirare le orecchie al festeggiato (“pull the birthday person’s ears”), you’ll know why.
There are different explanations for this tradition. One of the most popular ones is that pulling the birthday person’s ears reminds them of the passing time. This comes from an ancient belief that memory was stored in the ears.
The Birthday Person Takes Care of the Food
Chi compie, paga is a bit tricky to translate in English as compiere doesn’t have an English equivalent. The phrase means “The one who is celebrating their birthday pays.”
It may sound strange to you. How come the person celebrating treats instead of that being the friends’ responsibility? It’s hard to explain exactly.
Food’s a huge part of Italian culture, and eating and sharing high-quality food is such an important social activity. When someone celebrates their birthday, they share their appreciation for their guests by offering them food.
Parties are usually held at the birthday person’s house and the food can be served as finger-food, a buffet, or a several-courses meal. It’s not uncommon to have dinner outside, but it would usually be with only a few close friends and/or relatives. Those who don’t have the time and/or means for any of the previous two might go for a drink or a pizza.
A constant in all cases is that the birthday person, or their family in case it’s a surprise, is expected to treat.
Guests Have to Bring Gifts
Since the birthday person takes care of the party, guests bring gifts to demonstrate a matched affection. The gifts, wrapped with great care, are often opened before the party ends so the host can properly thank everyone.
Bringing gifts to your hosts isn’t only for birthdays, though. It’s a good idea to bring a little something anytime you go to someone else’s house in Italy, even if they’re a relative. If it’s not a birthday, it doesn’t have to be anything expensive, and it’s the thought that counts.
What about if you’ve been told not to bring anything? Unless it’s for a serious reason and you’re at risk of disrespecting the hosts (e.g.: at a funeral), it’s still better not to come empty-handed.
Your hosts probably won’t make a big deal about it if you don’t follow this rule, especially if they know you’re a foreigner. But bringing a gift does help you blend in with the culture.
After reading about these traditions, do you feel motivated to organize your own Italian birthday party?
Let me help you with that.
How to Say “Party” in Italian: Festa
You’ve learnt that birthday parties are popular in Italy. Now, let’s see how to talk about them in the local language.
So, how do you say “party” in Italian? The answer is festa, and “birthday party” is festa di compleanno.
There isn’t a standard recipe for Italian birthday parties, but since they’re often held at home, they can get very creative. Parents usually organize dei giochi (“games”) for young children’s parties, while adults and teenagers can opt for una festa a tema (“a themed party”). Friends and family may pull together una sorpresa (“a surprise”) or una festa a sorpresa (“a surprise party”).
Here is some party-related vocabulary in Italian to set up your festa di compleanno:
- invito di compleanno – “birthday invitation”
- decorazione/i – “decoration/s”
- palloncino/i – “balloon/s”
- festone/i – “streamers”
- cappellino/i di compleanno – “birthday hat/s”
- coriandoli – “confettis”
- musica – “music”
- regalo – “present”
- pacco regalo – “gift box” or “gift wrapping”
- nastro – “ribbon”
Do you know what else your Italian birthday party can’t lack?
How to Say “Birthday Cake” in Italian: Torta di Compleanno
If you answered cibo (“food”) to the question above… Ding! Ding! Ding! You’re correct! As a prize, you get a virtual birthday cake: 🎂
La torta di compleanno (“the birthday cake”) is a must in Italy. It’s usually home-made, but it’s not uncommon for the host or their family to have it ordered, and cover it with candele or candeline (“candles”).
Eating the birthday cake comes with a little ritual in Italy, one you might recognize because it’s common around the world.
Here’s how it happens: the guests sing the birthday song and, when it ends, they tell the birthday person Spegni le candele! (“Blow out the candles”). While the birthday person does so, they have to esprimere un desiderio (“make a wish”). Then they arm themselves with the right tools for il taglio della torta (“cutting the cake”, literally “the cut of the cake”). Finally, it’s time for the scorpacciata (“bellyful”)!
Here are some of the most popular tipi (“kinds) of Italian birthday cakes, including some well-loved gusti (“flavours”), that you might want to consider for your Italian birthday:
- torta a piani – “multiple-story cake”
- semifreddo – literally “half-cold”. It’s a typical half-frozen Italian dessert which resembles a mix of mousse and ice cream.
- pan di Spagna – “sponge cake”
- cioccolato – “chocolate”
- crema – “cream”
- panna (montata) – “whipped cream”
- frutta – “fruits”
- fragola – “strawberry”
- nocciola – “hazel”
Even if the cake steals the spotlight, it isn’t the only food served at Italian birthday parties. Here are some extras:
- bibita/e – “drink/s”
- succo – “juice”
- brindisi – “cheer/toast”
- cappuccino and caffè – “cappuccino” and “coffee”
- gelato – “ice cream”
- caramella/e – “candy/ies”
- patatine – “chips”
- manicaretto/i – “little (exquisite) dish/es”
- biscotto/i – “cooky/ies”
- panino/i – “sandwich/es”, usually mini ones
Let’s also talk about the objects you would need to serve the food:
- bicchieri – “glasses”
- tovaglia – “tablecloth”
- tovaglioli – “napkins”
- piatti – “plates”
- posate – “cutlery”
- cucchiaio – “spoon”
- forchetta – “fork”
- coltello – “knife”
If you can’t use your finest tablecloth or napkins because, say, the party is happening outside, una tovaglia di plastica (“a plastic tablecloth”) and dei tovaglioli di carta (“paper napkins”) will do more than fine.
How to Say “Birthday Boy” and “Birthday Girl” in Italian: Festeggiato and Festeggiata
The birthday cake may attract the most attention on the table, but the real star of the party is the festeggiato (“birthday boy”) or festeggiata (“birthday girl”).
As they’re the anfitrione (“host”), the festeggiato/a receives the invitati (“guests”).
As you can see, the noun festeggiato/a has a common root with festa. If we literally translate it to English, festeggiato/a would mean “the partied one” or “the celebrated one”. The latter is due to the fact that festeggiato/a is also the past participle of the verb festeggiare.
Why does that make any difference? Let me explain.
The Verb “To Celebrate” in English: Festeggiare
Now that your party is properly organized, there’s only one thing left to do: celebrate!
Wait… How do you say “to celebrate” in Italian?
The Italian verb for “to celebrate” is festeggiare. As you can see, it has the same root as the noun festa. For this reason, festeggiare also occasionally means “to party”, although a better phrase for that would be fare la festa (literally “to make the party”).
Festeggiare belongs to the first group of Italian verbs. See how to conjugate it in present tense:
- (io) festeggio – “I celebrate”
- (tu) festeggi – “you celebrate” (informal singular second person)
- (lui, lei or Lei) festeggia – “he/she celebrates” or “you celebrate” (formal singular second person)
- (noi) festeggiamo – “we celebrate”
- (voi) festeggiate – “you celebrate” (plural second person)
- (essi/esse or loro) festeggiano – “they celebrate”
How to Write a Birthday Card in Italian
Come si scrive “Buon Compleanno” in Italiano? (“How do you write Happy Birthday in Italian?”) Usually, you would do that on un biglietto di auguri (di compleanno) (“a birthday card”).
Writing someone a birthday card isn’t a big deal in Italy. In fact, since the guests already bring gifts, a card isn’t deemed necessary. But, it’s still a nice thought, and it’s possible that you might get some at your Italian birthday party.
What would your guests write on them? It may be classical one-liners, such as Tanti Auguri and Buon Compleanno, or they may get more creative.
Here are some more phrases you might find in your birthday cards:
- Tanti auguri di buon compleanno. – “Best wishes for a happy birthday”, literally “Many wishes of good birthday”.
- Cento di questi giorni! – “Many happy returns”, literally “A hundred of these days.”
- Sembri più giovane che mai! – “You look younger than ever!”
- Buon compleanno a colui che è per sempre giovane! – “Happy birthday to someone who is forever young!”
- Possano tutti i tuoi desideri avverarsi (in questo giorno) – “May all your wishes come true (on this day).”
- Ti auguro il meglio – “I wish you the best”. The phrase could also conclude with oggi e sempre (“today and forever”).
How to Text “Happy Birthday” in Italian
Birthday cards are nice, but receiving ultra-short birthday wishes by text message is more common these days.
A birthday text could look like TA (tanti auguri, although be careful with this one because it’s also an abbreviation for the powerful ti amo – “I love you”). The text could also contain TVTB (ti voglio tanto bene – “I love you”) and 6 grande (sei grande – “you’re great”).
Let’s press pause for a second. You might be wondering why I translated two phrases as “I love you”, and qualified one of “powerful”. If you’re curious about the difference, you should check out this article, which contains an explanation.
Birthday Questions in Italian
The birthday person gets asked a lot of questions about their birthday. From “How old are you?” to “How was your birthday?” I’m going to teach you some essential birthday-related questions and the proper answers to them in Italian.
Before I do, however, let’s quickly review this important grammar point. Remember that there are three “you” in Italian, so use the correct possessive pronoun to ask the questions:
- tu → tuo – singular informal “you”
- Lei → suo – singular formal “you”
- voi → vostro – plural “you”
How to Ask “How Old Are You?” in Italian: Quanti Anni Hai?
Italians don’t ask “How old are you?”, they ask Quanti anni hai?, which literally translates to English as “How many years do you have?”
Note: Asking someone Quanti anni hai? in Italy isn’t proper if the person appears older than you. Using the formal singular “you” (Lei → Quanti anni ha?) can help make the question more respectful, but you’d rather not bring it up anyway.
The question with the plural “you” is Quanti anni avete?
Those who like joking around might answer sono vecchio (“I’m old”). Those who prefer more precise answers will say Ho … anni (“I am … years old”).
To fill in the blank, check out the Italian numbers:
To make up numbers like 37 and 52, just add on to the tens: trentasette, cinquantadue. For all numbers from 20 to 100 that end in “one”, remove the last letter of the ten and add uno: quarantuno (41), settantuno (71).
Note: An appreciated answer to how old they are would be Non dimostri la tua età (“You don’t look your age”, singular informal), Non dimostra la sua età (singular formal), Non dimostrate la vostra età (plural). Always a nice compliment!
How to Ask “When is Your Birthday?” in Italian: Quand'È il Tuo Compleanno?
If you’ve just made an Italian friend and want to add their birthday to your calendar, ask them Quand'è il tuo compleanno? (“When’s your birthday?”)
Possible answers to this question include Fra poco (“soon”), la prossima settimana (“next week”), il prossimo mese (“next month”). If your interlocutor gives you a more exact answer, they will use this format: il 14 luglio (“July 14th”).
Psst… Do you need to review the months in Italian? It’s fine, I’ve got you covered:
- gennaio – “January”
- febbraio – “February”
- marzo – “March”
- aprile – “April”
- maggio – “May”
- giugno – “June”
- luglio – “July”
- agosto – “August”
- settembre – “September”
- ottobre – “October”
- novembre – “November”
- dicembre – “December”
Remember that Italian months aren’t normally capitalised, unlike in English.
How to Ask “What Do You Want to Do for Your Birthday?” in Italian: Che Cosa Vuoi Fare per il Tuo Compleanno?
If someone asks you Che cosa vuoi fare per il tuo compleanno? (“What do you want to do for your birthday?”), you could answer niente (“nothing”) or una festa!
Here are some more answers:
- Stare in famiglia – “Be with my family.”
- Qualcosa tra amici – “Something among friends.”
- Andare in gita – “Go on a trip.”
How to Ask “How Was Your Birthday?” in Italian: Com’Era il Tuo Compleanno?
If one of your friends wasn’t able to come to your birthday party, or if you chose to celebrate it with your family only, they might ask you Com’era il tuo compleanno? (“How was your birthday?”)
Here are some possible answers:
- Fantastico – “amazing”, literally “fantastic”
- Speciale – “special”
- Non un granché – “not much”
- Terribile – “terrible”
Celebrate Birthdays in Italian
That’s it, you’re all set to celebrate birthdays in Italian!
Now that you know how to say “happy birthday” in Italian, maybe you could learn how to wish it in another language.
Tell me, will you write some birthday cards in Italian? Or pull your friends’ ears on their special day?
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.