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2 min read
Collin O'Brien
October 18, 2023
Reading time
2 min read

How and when to use "congratulations" in English

Have you ever found yourself at a celebration or milestone event, a bit unsure when it’s the perfect moment to joyfully exclaim, "Congratulations!"?
How and when to use "congratulations" in English

How and when to use "congratulations" in English

Have you ever found yourself at a celebration or milestone event, a bit unsure when it’s the perfect moment to joyfully exclaim, "Congratulations!"? Whether it's toasting a friend's new job or celebrating a loved one's major milestone, knowing when and how to extend your congratulations is a social skill worth mastering. Let’s take a closer look at how to properly convey your joy for others’ successes and significant life moments.

The perfect congratulations

First thing’s first: the grammar. When extending your well-wishes, it’s important to use the correct phrasing to make your congratulations sound just right. For instance, we never say, "Congratulations to an occasion!" or "Congratulations that an occasion took place!" The grammatically correct phrase is "Congratulations on an occasion!"

Woman happy and excited

And while we’re at it, it’s worth noting that the term is always used in its plural form - "Congratulations!" Leaving off the 's' to say, "Congratulation!" is grammatically incorrect and might leave the listener feeling a bit puzzled. For a casual, friendly touch, feel free to shorten the word to "Congrats!" — because who doesn't love saving time with a bit of slang?

Knowing when to congratulate

Have a friend who just snagged a dream job at a top company? That’s a perfect time to chime in with a hearty, "Congratulations on your new job!" If they later earn a promotion to vice president, a celebratory "Congratulations on your promotion!" is absolutely in order.

When a niece or nephew dons the cap and gown for high school graduation, a simple and enthusiastic "Congratulations!" will do. If they later receive an acceptance letter from their dream university, feel free to exclaim, "Congratulations on your admission!"

Friends excitedly celebrating

Navigating through life's celebrations, like engagements, weddings, and the arrival of babies, all warrant a warm congratulatory message. So, whether it's "Congratulations on your engagement!" or cheering "Congratulations on the new baby!", these expressions are always appropriate and appreciated.

However, not all life events are created equal in the congratulations department. For life events that are more passive, like celebrating a birthday or ringing in the New Year — these aren't typically occasions when "Congratulations!" is used. After all, as much as we might like to, congratulating someone simply for aging another year might come off as a bit odd!

How to relay congratulations

Sometimes, the congratulations are not meant for the person you are speaking to but for someone they know. In this case, you’d use "Congratulations to." For example, if a co-worker shares the delightful news of a new addition to their family, you can joyfully respond with, "Great news! Congratulations to your sister!"

Woman saying 'congratulations'

The variety of life’s joyous occasions that warrant a congratulatory message are plentiful. Whether it's acknowledging the arrival of a co-worker’s newborn with a "Congratulations on your daughter!" or celebrating a friend's new role with "Congratulations on the new position!", using the term correctly can convey your genuine happiness and support for the other person’s good news.

In essence, "Congratulations!" is the go-to phrase for celebrating significant life milestones, achievements in academics and career, and joyous family events. Whether someone is getting engaged, married, promoted, or having a baby — these are all fantastic occasions to express your joy and celebration with a well-placed "Congratulations!"

However, for events that are a little more run-of-the-mill, like birthdays or the arrival of a new year, you might want to hold off on the congratulations and opt for a different form of well-wishing instead.


Remember, it’s all about celebrating achievements and significant life changes. So, the next time you hear about a friend or loved one reaching a milestone, you’ll be ready with a perfectly phrased "Congratulations!" to show you care and share in their joy.