Congratulations on or for?

By Maeve Maddox

Several readers have written to ask which preposition should be used with congratulations. Should we say “congratulations on” or “congratulations for”?

The answer is, “It depends.”

In the singular, congratulation is the action of congratulating. In the plural, congratulations is what one offers to express pleasure in the success or good fortune of another.

The preposition on is used when expressing one’s good wishes in the context of a happy event:

Congratulations on your marriage!
Congratulations on your new baby!
Congratulations on your promotion!
Congratulations on winning the lottery!

Congratulations can be offered as praise for someone’s achievement. In that context, the preposition to use is for:

Congratulations for completing 100 days without an accident!
Congratulations for leading the Scouts to safety!
Congratulations for saving the farm from foreclosure!

Congratulations can also be offered to someone.

The CEO offered congratulations to all her employees.
The townspeople offered congratulations to the utility company for the swift restoration of power.

The word can also be used reflexively: “Go ahead and congratulate yourself. You deserve it.”

Finally, congratulations can be used by itself:

“Everyone shouted ‘Congratulations!’ as the newlyweds descended the staircase.”

Nowadays, wedding guests offer congratulations to both bride and groom, but not so very long ago, it was considered a breach of etiquette to congratulate the bride. The custom was to congratulate the groom and to offer “best wishes” to the bride. The rationale was that the groom deserved to be congratulated because he had won out over his rivals. The bride, on the other hand, received best wishes in the hope that her choice of a husband would prove to have been a wise one.

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9 Responses to “Congratulations on or for?”

  • Rich Wheeler

    This advice sounded good at first read. I don’t have much formal education in grammar. It may reflect standard usage. As I thought about the mechanics, though, the examples using ‘for’ sounded increasingly unnatural. I came to hold a different view.

    First, achievements such as completing, leading, and saving are all events.

    Second, grammatically, as an object for the preposition, “winning the lottery” does not differ from “leading the scouts to safety.”

    Third, in all seven on/for examples, the object of the preposition is a noun. The first three examples use natural nouns: marriage, baby, and promotion. The fourth and the final three examples all use noun phrases based on gerunds: winning, completing, leading, and saving.

    The preposition used, therefore, should not change. Either “winning the lottery” should be in the ‘for’ list, or all seven examples should use ‘on.’

    As I see it, the difference should be determined not by ‘event’ versus ‘achievement’ (my 30th anniversary last month certainly was an achievement!).

    The time to use ‘congratulations for’ comes when the reason becomes an optional part of the sentence. You can see this in the ‘to’ examples:

    “The CEO offered congratulations to all her employees [for working 1,000 hours without any injuries].
    “The townspeople offered congratulations to the utility company for the swift restoration of power.”

  • Rich Wheeler

    Unrelated note: “Offer congratulations to” is almost always wordy. Better: Simply use “congratulate.” Observe the following contrasts:

    Standard:

    The cartoonist offered congratulations to all her characters for working 1,000 hours without slipping on any banana peels.

    The townspeople offered congratulations to the first responders for the swift containment of the wildland fire.

    Better:

    The cartoonist congratulated all her characters for working 1,000 hours without slipping on any banana peels.

    The townspeople congratulated the first responders for swiftly containing the wildland fire.*

    Notice that when you start thinking about wordiness, you will notice other opportunities to trim fat and increase the ‘punch’ of your writing.

  • Kiffin Emanuel

    I was taught that “Congratulations” to the Bride was unacceptable as its usage might possibly be perceived as an insult to both parties (“Success at ‘getting’ *any* man”) and as such was therefore not justifiably applied in that instance.

    Use of the word to the Groom *was* acceptable as it implies that he fortunately succeeded in finding, wooing and gaining the most beautiful woman in the world as a wife and was complimentary as an affirmation of his masculinity. (I realize that most people may state that as such, that opinion connotes a sexist attitude, but, as I am in my mid-sixties, and was married for nearly thirty years, I can only plead “guilty as charged”. In was in that matter that I was “dragged up”, and I’m not going to change my thinking at this late stage of my existence” ..)

  • Kiffin Emanuel

    Sorry about the typo in the last sentence. Should be read as “It was in that manner that I was dragged up..”, etc

  • Dale A. Wood

    To Rich Wheeler:
    Once again, you are one of those people who wants to use logic as your all-purpose hammer and screwdriver.

    That is impossible to do in the cases of many prepositions because the choice of which one to use is so often IDIOMATIC – not just in English, but in many other languages, too. The combinations of verb plus preposition are also idiomatic, very frequently.

    Maeve Maddox was explaining – by giving examples – of the idiomatic choices of the prepositions in the cases of congratulations on, congratulations for, congratulations to, and so forth. Don’t try to hit it with a hammer.

    It is interesting that centuries ago, German did not have a verb that corresponded to “congratulate”. The verb “gratulieren” was adopted from other languages – maybe English, maybe French. In German, all verbs that have been “borrowed” from other languages end in “ieren” in their infinitive forms. Another good example is “rasieren”, which means “to shave”. There are dozens more.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Another loan verb from English into German is “studieren”, which means “to study”. Before this word came into the German language, they used the verb “lernen” = “to learn”.
    Hence, it was difficult to express this concept in German: to study without learning anything – or without learning very much.
    As a former college teacher in electronics and mathematics, I can assure you that there is a significant percentage of students who do study without learning very much. Then, there are are those students who do not learn because they don’t study….
    D.A.W.

  • Aparajita

    I have a doubt. You said that ‘Congratulations for’ is used as praise for someone’s achievement while ‘Congratulations on’ is used when expressing one’s good wishes in the context of a happy event. My doubt is-Isn’t someone’s achievement a happy event too?
    Saying ‘Congratulations on completing 100 days without an accident’ doesn’t sound wrong to me?

  • Jimmy C Mattom

    The correct preposition to be used with congratulate is ON and nt FOR.
    Ex:-The teacher cogratulated the student on his passing the examination in first class.

  • Dale A. Wood

    There is not anything wrong with the combination “congratuation on” when it is used in the idiomatically correct way.
    Why it is that you think that you should veto the usage, and then give absolutely no why or wherefore concerning your reasoning?
    Are you some sort of Holy Roman Emperor concerning such things?
    D.A.W.

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