“Many Happy Returns Of The Day”: Meaning & Usage On Birthdays

When wishing someone a happy birthday or celebrating the day with them, it’s good to learn a few varying phrases and sayings. The phrase “many happy returns of the day” is a great example of a phrase that works well, but what does it mean?

What Does “Many Happy Returns Of The Day” Mean?

“Many happy returns of the day” means that we want to wish that someone’s birthday (the day) returns many times over the coming years. It’s another way of saying “we hope you live for a long time” and is a nice way to celebrate the birthday of someone you like.

What Does "Many Happy Returns Of The Day" Mean?

You might also come across a few variations of the phrase. Either way, the idea is always the same, we want the birthdays to return year after year.

  • Many more happy returns of the day!
  • Many, many happy returns of the day!

Is It Correct To Say “Many Happy Returns Of The Day”?

When wishing someone a happy birthday, you may want to make sure you use grammatically correct phrases.

Of course, if the person you’re speaking to is your friend, chances are they won’t call you up on your incorrect phrasing, even if that was the case. Still, it’s good to know what you’re talking about!

“Many happy returns of the day” is correct to say. It is a truncated (shortened) sentence that is supposed to start with the phrase “I hope you have.” Over time, we’ve stopped needing to use “I hope you have” to convey the meaning.

The idea behind the phrase is:

  • (I hope you have) many happy returns of the day.

The part that we’ve left in parentheses is the part that you can freely remove from the phrase and still have it mean the same thing. The implication when we say “many happy returns of the day” is that we’re already doing the “hoping” part without saying it.

It’s similar to other phrases, like:

  • (I hope you have a) Happy Birthday!

Here, “happy birthday” is one of the most popular sayings when wishing someone well on their day. However, we’re supposed to say “I hope you have a” before it to let them know that we wish them a happy birthday. We no longer need to say that because the implication is that we already wish them “happy birthday.”

Part of the fun of the English language is allowing ourselves a chance to shorten and streamline speaking and writing. We remove unnecessary words and phrases to help keep our messages short and sweet.

How Do I Use “Many Happy Returns”?

Let’s go through some examples of when we might use “many happy returns” in the case of a birthday. Interestingly enough, even though we use the phrase “the day” in the saying, the overall phrase always applies to birthdays and no other days.

  1. Hey, it’s great to see you! Many happy returns of your big day!
  2. Happy Birthday and many happy returns!
  3. Many happy returns of the day! You’re going to live forever!
  4. Many, many happy returns of the day, my dear friend!
  5. I wish you many more happy returns of the day!
  6. I hope you have many happy returns on your birthday!
  7. Many happy returns! We know you’ll be around forever, grandad!
  8. If I don’t see you by the end of the day, then many happy returns of the day!
  9. I wish you many happy returns of the day!
  10. Many, many happy returns of the day!

As you can see from all of these examples, we can only use the phrase “many happy returns” and all of its variations when we wish someone well on their birthday or something similar to that. It’s only used to talk about birthdays because that’s the day that we want to keep returning for the person we’re talking to.

You might be able to make some arguments about using it for other days, but the likelihood is very low. Your birthday is the only day that’s individual to you and comes around once every year.

For example, if you tried to say “many happy returns” on a different happy day, like the day that someone gets hired on a new job, you’re actually implying that you hope they have to keep searching for a new job and the day returns a lot.

The same goes for a wedding day, where “many happy returns” implies you want them to experience a wedding day over and over again (meaning they’ll have to divorce).

The whole saying breaks down if you use it in a context other than that of a birthday, so make sure you’re only using it for someone’s birthday.

Where Does “Many Happy Returns” Come From?

Now let’s take a brief look at where “many happy returns” comes from and why it’s such a popular phrase for birthdays. Also, why do we say “many, many happy returns of the day?” Isn’t one “many” enough?

We can say “many, many happy returns of the day” to stress the word “many” in this case. It implies that we’re hoping there are plenty more birthdays to come. It works well for younger people who are going to live longer but is also a hopeful phrase for older people too.

The phrase has been around since the 18th century. Back then, it meant much the same thing as it does today. It was used to mark the day (the birthday) in the calendar as a date that would recur every year and encourage long and happy life.

Generally, with older sayings like this, you’ll most likely find the older generation using them. It’s not typical for younger native speakers to know about this saying. If you’re going to use it, mostly older people will understand its meaning.

If you wish it to someone young, they might need further explanation of the term. Such is the way with older sayings, where the meaning seems to get lost over time – and the popularity eventually dwindles. Make sure you know your audience before saying it.