Do You Capitalize The Phrase “Happy Birthday” Ever?


do you capitalize happy birthday

Knowing when and where to capitalize words and phrases in your writings depicts your writing expertise and experience. Properly capitalizing letters in your resumes and cover letters can, in fact, increase your chances of bagging the job. But what is the capitalization of casual or less formal phrases such as “happy birthday” like?

The phrase “happy birthday” can be capitalized or written in lowercase depending on the context in which it appears. There are also instances when you can get away with capitalizing or not capitalizing the phrase at all. If “happy birthday” begins a sentence, the word “happy” is always capitalized.

happy birthday sign las vegas lights style

There is no well-defined rule surrounding the capitalization of the phrase “happy birthday”. However, there are scenarios where the phrase should be capitalized or written in lowercase. Read on to learn about those writing scenarios and lots more. 

The Origin Of “Happy Birthday” 

The “happy birthday” phrase hasn’t been around forever. In fact, the set of words weren’t used until the middle of the 19th century.

On a related note, the “Happy Birthday to You” song was introduced by the sisters Mildred and Patty J. Hill in the late 19th century. The tune for the song was published in 1893 by Clayton F. Summy, a Chicago publisher.

In the beginning, the “happy birthday” phrase was used in its literal sense, denoting the actual occasion. Over a period, it turned into a standard congratulatory expression. Before the phrase was ever used, people wished each other on their birthdays using phrases such as “many happy returns”, “many returns”, etc.

The noun “return” denotes the “fact or act of coming round again or recurring” or “series of repetitions”. 

Rules For Capitalizing The Phrase “Happy Birthday” 

As mentioned above, the “happy birthday” phrase is capitalized or left in lowercase based on where it appears. If it appears in the middle of a sentence, for instance, it’s pretty much always in lowercase. If the phrase starts the sentence, the first word “happy” should be capitalized. And if the phrase is a title or part of a headline, it should be capitalized. For example:

  • How to Wish Someone a Happy Birthday Properly

If the above headline, however, if it is in a sentence case, the phrase “happy birthday” will not be capitalized. 

  • How to wish someone a happy birthday properly

There are some who believe grammar rules should be shunned when using a phrase such as “happy birthday” as it’s a special greeting. They are of the opinion that the phrase should always be capitalized whether it’s part of a sentence, is in a title or headline, etc. 

The phrase “happy birthday” is not a proper noun. It is, therefore, never capitalized by default. If all of this sounds a tad confusing, keep the following basic rules in mind: 

  • The word “birthday” is a common noun. In other words, you do not capitalize the term. The day isn’t a specific holiday like Halloween or Christmas for it to be considered a proper name. Since every individual born has a birthday, it’s regarded as a common noun.
  • The word “happy” is capitalized at times. Like “birthday”, “happy” is not a proper noun either. It, in fact, is not a noun in the first place. It’s, therefore, capitalized only if it’s part of a title or the word begins a sentence.
  • Use a comma. If you are addressing some person with their name in your birthday message, always place a comma before their name. This is usually the case whether the phrase is a title or in a sentence. If the phrase with the name appears in a sentence, it will invariably be the last three words of the sentence.

“Happy Birthday” Is Fun 

The phrase “happy birthday” is casual and evokes fun. You can, therefore, get a little innovative or creative with how you use the phrase in your sentences. 

For instance, you could even change the font size and color of the phrase in your sentences just to highlight the words. This is usually done when sending birthday messages to friends and colleagues via email. 

Also, because it’s a fun message, writing the phrase in all caps – as in “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” – won’t be interpreted as anger, but construed as the sender saying the words aloud in happiness and/or in a celebratory way. 

birthday word on dictionary

Long story short, the phrase “happy birthday” can completely ignore capitalization rules if it’s used in personal greetings. There are special birthday-themed emojis too that you could put to use. But if the phrase is part of a dialogue in a story or published novel, the grammar rules have to be strictly adhered to. 

Birthday Message In Quotes 

When the words “happy birthday” are enclosed in parentheses, they should be capitalized – irrespective of whether they appear in a title or a sentence. For example: 

  • Justine wished him “Happy Birthday”.

The same sentence can be written without quotes, for example: 

  • Justine wished him a happy birthday.

When the quotes are removed, the article “a” is added to the sentence and the birthday phrase is also written in lowercase.

Is The Phrase “Happy Belated Birthday” Correct? 

When you miss someone’s birthday and get reminded of it only after the birthday is over, there are different ways to phrase your late birthday wishes. 

If you are considering using the term “belated” (as many do), use it correctly. In other words, it’s “belated happy birthday” and not “happy belated birthday”. This is despite “happy belated birthday” sounding more correct. To understand this better, some digging in is mandatory. 

The word “belated” can mean something that’s delayed or late. If you use the “happy belated birthday” phrase in your message, try to replace the word “belated” with “late” or “delayed” and then read the phrase. The phrase “happy late birthday” may be right if the birthday was late. However, since birthdays are birth anniversaries, they cannot possibly be late or delayed. 

Greetings, however, can be late. Therefore, it makes a lot more sense to use the phrase “belated happy birthday” instead. In this phrase, the word “belated” modifies the “happy birthday” phrase. When written incorrectly, the “belated birthday” phrase is altered by “happy”, which doesn’t make any sense. 

Long story short, the congratulatory “happy birthday” phrase is belated and not the actual “birthday”. Another way to remember this rule is that the words “happy” and “birthday” always go together. 

In case you were wondering, the “belated birthday” phrase’s opposite is or can be “happy early birthday”, “happy pre-emptive birthday”, or “happy pre-birthday”. These phrases, however, are not very commonly used even if one were to wish someone a happy birthday a day or two before the actual birthday.

The Incorrect Phrase “Happy Belated Birthday” Is Commonly Used 

Both the expressions “belated happy birthday” and “happy belated birthday” can be found in books, magazines, newspapers, social media, and blogs. In texts that do not undergo any proper editing, the second phrase is likely to feature more in them. The first or the correct phrase, however, is more common in thoroughly edited texts. The not-so-rigorously edited texts could be online magazines and newspapers, for instance. 

In greeting cards, where there’s increased scope to play around with the capitalization and phrasing of the words, the incorrect “happy belated birthday” is more commonly used too. Other phrases used in greeting cards include “belated birthday greetings”, “belated birthday wishes”, and, of course, “belated happy birthday”. 

Just because the phrase “happy belated birthday” is more popular or socially acceptable, it doesn’t make it correct or mean you should be using the phrase in your texts. 

The point behind using a language is expressing what you think and feel for others. A birthday greeting is a heartfelt message, and clearly expressing yourself as much as possible is, therefore, imperative. 

Example Sentences with the Phrase “Happy Birthday” 

Here are sentences/headlines using the phrase “happy birthday” and a few variations of it:

  • Happy birthday, Rick!
  • I wish you a very happy birthday!
  • Tomorrow is Martin’s birthday.
  • Thanks to all for the warm birthday wishes!
  • Mark’s Birthday Party!
  • He turned 19 today, so we wished him a happy birthday and got him a new iPhone as a gift.
  • Have a great birthday, Tim!
  • James wishing Mary a belated happy birthday clearly indicates the two have reconciled.
  • A belated happy birthday to Mr. Kevin Jacobs, the Head of Sales and Marketing at MNT Corp.
  • I would have loved to buy a happy birthday card to wish her on her birthday.

Kindly note, birthday messages such as “Happy Birthday, XYZ” could have the noun “birthday” capitalized or not capitalized since it’s a personal message. In general, however, the word “birthday” should be in lowercase if the message is not a title or headline.

Conclusion 

happy birthday lower case letter cut out

The phrase “happy birthday” might seem like a simple, harmless phrase (which it is), but getting its capitalization right in different writing scenarios could be a tad tricky. This confusion can be primarily attributed to how the phrase appears in greeting cards and decorative fonts.

As mentioned above, you need not be very particular about the phrase’s capitalization when it’s a personal message or text. But if it’s part of a proper sentence or formal text, capitalization rules should be strictly taken into consideration.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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