Many people simply say felicidades when they congratulate someone. Although it’s possible to use it in all kind of situations, it can soon become boring to say felicidades all the time. That’s why you should use the word enhorabuena from time to time as well.

But what’s the difference between felicidades and enhorabuena? Is there even one? And when do you use which one? First all, there is a difference between the two. It’s a small difference, but there’s one. Second of all, you use felicidades when it’s someone’s birthday. Can you use enhorabuena as well? No! Don’t fall in the trap to use in this context. Also, when someone graduated or passed a test enhorabuena is used instead of felicidades. For the rest, you can use both words pretty much for the same things (if there aren’t other exceptions I’m not aware of. Natives who can tell something about this?).

In English, you can translate enhorabuena to ‘congratulations’ or ‘to congratulate somebody’ (although the word itself isn’t a verb).

Sentences

¡Enhorabuena!
Congratulations!

Tengo que darte la enhorabuena.
I must congratulate you.

Le dieron la enhorabuena por su aprobado.
They congratulated him because of his pass.

*Sentences taken from “EsPasa diccionario de la lengua española” and “Pocket Oxford Spanish Dictionary”.

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Enhorabuena comment | Jeebr
September 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Carlos Lorenzo November 25, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Well as a native speaker I wouldn’t have to add much to this post. It is evident that we use the words without thinking much on the correct use. They simply pop up. I say felicidades for any anniversary. I could use it for some special occasions on which the addressee is specially happy about receiving important long awaited news, prize, etc. Enhorabuena I feel like more impersonal, at least when I use it. But yes I guess both words could be used indistinctly. I believe there are people that use one more than the other for no special reason. It depends on your background, the situation. For anniversaries it is always better felicidades, the rest suit yourself. Great post.

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eleena November 25, 2008 at 6:02 pm

I was told once that "felicidades" is said over happy occasions that the person has no control over (like a birthday, birth of a child, winning the lottery, etc.) where as "enhorabuena" was used in situations where some kind of extended effort or hard work had to take place before the person achieved whatever is that you're congratulating them about. For example, graduating from university, landing a huge contract, winning a prize recognizing professional or academic achievement, etc.

<abbr>eleena’s last blog post..To the victor, go the spoils…</abbr>

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David July 9, 2013 at 4:46 am

Well, as a general guide, it's useful to think of them that way. But not as a rule. For example, let's say you find a 100 dollar bill on the street as you walk along with your friend, you take it and show it to him and he congratulates you. It was something you had no control over and it didn't require any extended effort or hard work. Besides, your friend will congratulate you, and people around this post have been saying that "enhorabuena" is impersonal and distant compared to the other one. According to that guide, he should say "felicidades", right? Sorry, in this case the choice would be "¡Enhorabuena!". If he says "felicidades", it might sound a little bit weird for this event in particular. So the idea in this case would be "in good hour", "in such hour that is good", "such hour is good (because of…)", which almost sounds like you're about to say "such thing happens in a good hour" and if it's a good hour is because it's an hour where good and lucky things happen. So, if you were translating the dialogue, you can even say "lucky you!", and it would be the right idea.

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Jade November 25, 2008 at 7:30 pm

I think eleena gave the better explanation. Just to mention, “enhorabuena” means literally “in good time”, so as expected, it is used after someone got something was looking for. “Felicidades” comes from “Feliz”, “Happy” in English, so it fits better when something that makes someone just happened, like a birthday, (even if some people are not so happy about it :P )

Anyways, you can use both with a sarcastic meaning when someone is telling you something you are not interested about… :)

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jill March 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I found these replies very helpful and intresting as I always wondered what the difference was. A Spanish native once told me you only use "enhorabuena" if someone has just has a baby. That would fit with achievement afer considerable effort (in my experience anyway)!.

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Ramses November 25, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Interesting explanation Eleena. Never heard of it though. Will ask my professor Friday.

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SpanishOmelette November 26, 2008 at 11:20 am

Impressive Eleena, very well explained, because even being Spaniard I never thought about this little differences.

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Graham December 1, 2008 at 11:01 pm

@eleena: so I guess the English equivalent of “enhorabuena” would be something like “well done!”, which you would say to congratulate someone on an achievement, but not for, say, a birthday.

Graham’s last blog post..Callosa de Segura

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Andrea October 8, 2010 at 3:54 am

I've used the word "enhorabuena" in a congratulatory way but also implying "it's about time this happened to you- you really deserve this"

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Rickey October 12, 2010 at 2:46 am

I used to live and go to school in Chile, and the teachers always put felicidades on my paper when I got a good grade. Even both my native Spanish teachers here (one from Colombia and the other from Mexico) put felicidades on our tests, quizzes and homework. So I assume that it is a regional thing.

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Ramses October 27, 2010 at 4:45 pm

True that. I've heard quite some Latin-American classmates of mine (and teachers, as well) using felicidades whereas a Spaniard would use enhorabuena. So yes, it's a regional thing, so don't worry :-) .

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lera December 30, 2010 at 4:41 pm

can i use it if someone just got engaged? felicidades? which one?

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David July 10, 2013 at 9:44 am

You can use both…

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Rod March 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Enhorabuena = "Fortunatelly", " Luckily"

Enhorabuena also can be used for "Good News" but the above meaning is the more common.

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DZ March 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Hello, I just came across this site by accident, and I’d like to add a few things to the discussion.

As a native speaker I will say that the uses of words are purely cultural, and like many other idioms, are not easily translated to English or any other language. “Enhorabuena” is literally a portmanteau of “In Good Time.” It is intended to be used when something the recipient has been waiting for or expecting, finally happened. It is an exclamation of joy intended to share the excitement of the event or happening. and thus, it is very apt to use as a congratulatory expression when someone graduates, passes a test, or even has a baby!

“Felicidades” on the other hand, means “Felicities,” or more loosely, “Happy Times.” It is used as a wish upon someone: “Happiness en tu día,” for example, is a common birthday wish; meaning “Happy times on your day.” It is actually the plural form of “Happiness,” which does not really exist in the English language, but which conveys the idea that you wish someone not mere felicity, but a great deal of happiness.

Over the years, and amongst certain Hispanic cultures, the terms have blurred in their uses, since a joyous occasion could bring both a reason to wish someone happiness, as well as a chance to share in their joy.

But ultimately, if you want to wish happiness and felicities upon someone, you use “Felicidades.” If you want to congratulate and share in someone’s excitement at achieving or receiving something much expected, you use “Enhorabuena.”

In a separate note, I’d like to share my surprise at discovering a community discussion within a site called “Spanish-Only.com” which communicates mostly in English. I thought that was deliciously funny. :)

Saludos,

-dZ.

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David July 9, 2013 at 5:03 am

DZ,

Loved the irony of the "Spanish only" name… loved your nice explanation of the words… and loved your writing… glad to see there are still people out there who know how to write and speak properly…

Oh, by the way, maybe you should have mentioned that we can even say "¡Muchas felicidades!", as if we could "count" them. Like you said, it's the idea of a great deal of happiness.

And let me finish this in Spanish:

Felicidades por ser tan claro en tu explicación y que hayas encontrado este sitio… ¡Enhorabuena!

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DZ March 25, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I just realized I made a stupid typo in my post. The example expression I intended to provide was ““Felicidades en tu día.”

The curses of a purely bi-lingual lifestyle.

-dZ.

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Guillermo January 10, 2012 at 12:24 am

A third option would be "Felicitaciones", which (I believe) is the most proper translation of "congratulations". It comes from the verb "Felicitar" (to congratulate).
Also, in my experience (as a native speaker from South America) "enhorabuena" is not very common. People should understand it, but it is not very commonly used. In a way, it does feel more impersonal and distant, maybe that's why it's uncommon.

GG

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Blue November 27, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Well, as a native speaker "enhorabuena" is pretty much used (in Spain) in situations such as: birh of a child; getting a new job; getting married; passing an exam (nevertheless you can also use "felicidades" in all these occasions) . For birthdays or anniversaries, it is commonly used "felicidades"

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