We have another great question from one of our reader/listeners, Leanne!
Can you please tell me what the difference is between születésnapot and szülinapot? I notice when giving birthday greetings some of our relatives type “szülinapot” instead of “Születésnapot.” Also I am curious to know what is the translation for the phrase ‘Isten Éltessen.’ I could not find “Éltessen” in my dictionary. Do you know?
Györgyi: Well, we use these two words to wish someone a happy birthday. We usually say “Boldog szülinapot” to close friends or family, and “Boldog születésnapot” to everyone else. They both mean “Happy Birthday!”
Steven: “Szülinapot” is just a shortened version of “születésnapot,” in the same way that we might shorten “birthday” to “b-day.” There seems to be a trend nowadays to shorten everything in Hungarian using “i.” For example, “történelem” (history) –> “töri.”
Györgyi: Yes, it’s very common to shorten long words in Hungarian! It’s a kind of slang, I guess.
Steven: How about “Isten éltessen?”
Györgyi: This is a somewhat old-fashioned way of saying “Happy Birthday!” It’s not as common nowadays.
Steven: It literally means, “May God let you live long!”
Now here’s the crazy grammatical explanation for this expression:
“Éltessen” is “él” (live) in the causative. The causative form is used when you “make someone do something,” so “él” becomes “éltet,” or “someone makes someone live.”
But here, “éltessen” is in the conjunctive/imperative/subjunctive mood in the 3rd person causative, so “éltet” becomes “éltessen,” which means, “may somebody let you live” (the grammatical object “you” is implied). Finally, when you add “Isten” as the subject, then that “somebody” is God! I hope I got all that right.
Györgyi: I didn’t understand that at all!
Steven: I guess the important thing to know is that “Isten éltessen!” is another way to say, “Happy Birthday!”
Please send us your questions about the Hungarian language, and we’ll do our best to answer them!