I used to think we use congratulations for achievements but I recently came across an occassion when a native speaker said "congratulations" when he heard it's someone's birthday.

  1. Can we use congratulations for birthdays or that person just made it up?!

  2. What about new year? Can we use congratulations for new year's occassion, too? Think of this: I say

"Today is our New Year's Day"

can you say,

"Congratulations, didn't know that"

The following questions are a bit different from the previous ones but they're related to new year and stuff.

  1. When you say "congratulations" to someone, you congratulate them on an achievement (at least I'm sure about this usage). When you say, "happy new year" or "happy birthday" what do you do exactly? (I suppose it's not congratulating!)

  2. There is a week left to the New Year and I want to say "happy new year" to someone maybe because I know I won't see that person anymore by the end of the holidays (in my language we do this because it's polite). What should I say? Is "happy new year in advance" a good phrasing? If not, what are better replacements for this?


1 Answer 1


I've heard congratulations used in birthday greetings, or in wishing someone a happy new year, but it's generally intended to be somewhat humorous.

When I've heard it used, the implication has been: Congratulations! You made it through another year. Put another way: It's been a whole year and you're still alive. Congratulations.

Some might consider such "congratulations" to be morbid humor, particularly if the person you are talking to is quite advanced in age.

As for saying,

"Congratulations, I didn't know that."

I'd be careful with that one. It sounds like a sarcastic remark given to someone who has just stated something obvious.

As for:

"Happy new year in advance"

that sounds normal and idiomatic to me. Another more casual way you could say the same thing is:

"Have a happy new year!"

By putting the "Have a" at the start of the remark, you're acknowledging that the new year is coming soon but is still a little ways away.

  • Thanks J.R. so that native speaker was humorous. What about the 3rd question? Is it 'congratulating'?
    – Yuri
    Mar 27, 2016 at 11:46
  • 1
    Azad - One might call it well-wishing. The remark itself might also be called a seasonal greeting, or a form of salutation. I think those are better terms than "congratulating".
    – J.R.
    Mar 27, 2016 at 11:55

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