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I'd like to say "Happy Birthday [to you]!" in Latin. I see two possibilities in Traupman's Conversational Latin:

Fēlīx nātālis tibi!

Fēlīcem nātālem [tibi exoptō]!

The first is used in Traupman's rendition of the song, "Happy Birthday," so I wonder if he sacrificed anything to make it fit the music. The second uses the accusative of exclamation.

Another version of the song, by Keith Massey (youtube), squeezes "dies" in there, adding doubt to Traupman's version:

Felix dies natalis tibi!

Given that I'm only concerned about the best way to say the phrase, not sing it:

  • Are all three of these grammatical ways to say, "Happy birthday [to you]"?
  • Does using the accusative of exclamation change the meaning or tone of the sentence?
4

I think the accusative of exclamation is the best choice here. Its use can often be viewed as an elliptic sentence. When I write a birthday card in Latin, I often write iucundum diem natalem tibi exopto or iucundum diem natalem tibi exoptat Ionas. I could abbreviate that to iucundum diem natalem (or felicem) but I prefer whole sentences.

As Joel Derfner suggests, also dies natalis tibi felix sit is reasonable. That sounds a bit impersonal to me (I am wishing you a happy birthday) so I would choose exoptare instead of esse.

Whether you should choose nominative or accusative in an exclamation depends on which case more naturally fits the completed sentence. This "elliptic" approach may be nothing more but a personal preference, but it works well.

All of your sentences are grammatical. Difference in nuance, if any, comes more from (explicit or implicit) other words than dies natalis itself. I might read the nominative version as nunc est felix dies natalis instead of felix dies natalis sit/esto. Accusative makes the exclamation more active in a way and I recommend using it.

Maybe I should add that I often close my Latin emails with Te bene valere iubet Ionas instead of Vale! Ionas. Others may not share my preference for whole sentences, though.

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Traupman drives me crazy, because some of the stuff in that book is well attested, and some of it I believe he just made up, and he doesn't tell you which is which. ARGH. (That said, he also presents a lot of very valuable stuff.)

"Nātālis," with an understood "diēs," is the Latin way to say "birthday." Since "your" is also often understood when you're talking to somebody, I'd say something like "Nātālis fēlīx sit!" or just "Nātālis fēlīx!" (or same thing with the word order changed, obviously), which would probably be more idiomatic.

Nātālem fēlīcem would definitely work, though, as it implies tibi optō.

So the answer is basically that all three are probably absolutely right.

EDIT:

For what it's worth, I wouldn't call the accusative use an accusative of exclamation—the accusative of exclamation would be something more like, "How happy your birthday is!" This is just a plain accusative.

  • 1
    I agree, this is not an accusative of exclamation; it's just an exclamation that happens to contain a normal accusative object. – TKR Sep 13 '16 at 23:44

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