oranges, apples, pears, plums, bananas, pomegranates

A generic term in English for the words above would be "fruit"

"Where are you from?", "What are you?", "How is he?", "What time is movie?"

A generic term in English for the phrases above would be "questions"

"Happy New Year", "Happy Mother's Day", "Merry X-mas", "Happy Birthday"

But what would be a generic term in English for the phrases above?

I was inclined to use the term "congratulations", but I learned the other day that in English, unlike in many other languages, the word "congratulations" is not used in any of those occasions ("Congratulations on your birthday", "Congratulations on X-mas", etc.); instead, it is used for some personal achievements ("Congratulations on being elected a president", "Congratulations on your new promotion", "Congratulations on your new book", etc.)

So, if not "congratulations", then what term should I use?

  • In what context do you want to use this word? I can only think of it being used in some discussion about language....
    – James K
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:08
  • Is "Seasons greetings", or "Trick-or-Treat", or "Good morning" included or excluded?
    – James K
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:15
  • @JamesK - Yes, it is in the context about the language. It can be, for example, a book or a short video on YouTube for the learners of English instructing them on how to express their good wishes for people celebrating their birthday, X-mas, Thanksgiving, etc. Such mistakes like "Congratulations on your birthday!" are very common among non-native speakers, so this problem is worth being addressed specifically under some title like "Seasonal Greetings".
    – brilliant
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:16
  • @JamesK - Those are different phrases, in which the speaker is expressing their well wishes on some special occasions that are not happening on a regular every-day basis. Therefore, neither "Trick-or-Treat", nor "Good morning" is included. The former doesn't express well wishes and the latter is an every-day thing.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:22
  • "congratulations on your promotion"? "Good luck for your exam" "Break-a-leg (theatrical)" "Have a great vacation"...?
    – James K
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:30

2 Answers 2


They are commonly called "greetings", or perhaps "seasonal greetings". In American English, it is more common to refer to Christmas, Easter etc as "holidays", so "holiday greetings" would also fit (this is not so common in British English where we use 'holiday' to mean vacation). Birthdays may not be a 'holiday' as such, but a wish of "happy birthday" is still a 'greeting'.

Another term that is not really used is "well-wish", which is defined as a good or favourable wish, or a wish of happiness. All of the above greetings would fit this description. Although we don't tend to refer to the greetings as well-wishes, it is quite common to hear persons described as 'well-wishers' but this has a much wider application.

In particular, such expressions at Christmas time are traditionally referred to as "season's greetings". In fact, some people actually say "season's greetings!" as a way of perhaps combining the various traditional greetings associated with that time of year.

  • I think the Brits say holiday greetings, generically, too. After all, both in the US and the UK, a holiday is a holiday., before it ever became a vacation in AmE. They say bank holiday, regional holiday. But the holiday greeting would work in either. officeholidays.com/countries/united-kingdom
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 15:44
  • Maybe the birthday one does not fit very well with "seasons greetings." I'm drawing a blank as to what would join the birthday one with the others.
    – puppetsock
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 18:35
  • @puppetsock Birthday greetings, we say. Season's greetings typically includes the New Year.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:19
  • @Lambie you may think that, but as a 'Brit' I know that we don't. We use 'holiday' to mean time off work and school, which includes things like "the Christmas holidays" and "Easter holidays", but we tend not to use the term 'holidays' as an umbrella term for these types of events because its primary meaning in British English is time off work including our own personal vacation time. For the same reason, it would be uncommon to use it as a prefix or as a noun-as-adjective for things. Your example of 'bank holiday' is the reverse - the word 'bank' clarifies what kind of holiday it is.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 10:26
  • I know everything you are telling me. A holiday in AmE is also time off work. It has no other meaning. And the word is sometimes used in lieu of vacation by AmE speakers. People are not at work on (national( holidays here. In any event, there is no one term except maybe greeting cards that covers the list.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 13:44

I can't imagine much use of such a word, as these expressions don't share any common grammar or meaning.

In a discussion of language I'd just say

... expressions like "Happy birthday" or "Merry Christmas" ...

But as these don't share any particular grammatical category, I'm not sure exactly what expressions you are including: Is "Seasons greetings", or "Trick-or-Treat", or "Good morning" included or excluded? if so on what grounds. This ambiguity points to why there isn't a simple word that covers this category.

In the context of a title of a Youtube video

How to greet people on their birthday

would be a short and simple title

  • The title "How to greet people on their birthday" will limit the scope of greetings to only birthdays and will exclude X-mas, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, Father's Day and a whole lot of other special occasions.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:25
  • Not really. The title doesn't prevent you from talking more generally. The point in my answer is that this isn't a natural grammatical category....
    – James K
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:27
  • "Not really. The title doesn't prevent you from talking more generally" - You, of course, can talk more generally and leave the scope of things specified in the title and it may not be a problem to you. But that would be misleading for the learners as they will think then that such expressions like "congratulations on your promotion", "congratulations on your success", "congratulations on competing this semester" are also included, and, thus, will automatically start saying something like "congratulations on your birthday!".
    – brilliant
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:32

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