Better Late Than Never | Meaning & Uses

Idioms updated on  January 25, 2024 2 min read

Better late than never is an idiom that means that doing something late is better than not doing it at all. It is a fairly straightforward expression and is typically used in informal contexts, such as casual conversation.

“Better late than never” is a direct translation of the Latin phrase potiusque sero quam nunquam. The first recorded use in English is a line from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which can be translated into modern English as “For better than never is late; never to succeed would be too long a period.”

Examples: Better late than never in a sentence
My brother is finally going to finish his degree. Better late than never, right?
I forgot to say it last week, but better late than never: Happy birthday!
You’re only getting your driver’s license now? Better late than never, I guess.

How to use better late than never

“Better late than never” is an idiom meaning that it is preferable for something to happen late than not to happen at all. The phrase can be used sincerely or in a sarcastic manner.

When you’re apologetic that you are doing something behind schedule, “better late than never” can be used to lessen the disappointment of being late (e.g., “I’m just putting the card in the mail now, but it’s better late than never”).

It can be used sarcastically, usually as a response, when you are the recipient of something that is being done late (“e.g., “You were supposed to call last week. Better late than never, I guess.”).

The phrase “better late than never” is oftentimes preceded by the contraction “it’s,” though this is not always the case (e.g., “I’m putting away my Christmas decorations in February because it’s better late than never”).

Examples: Better late than never in a sentence
Sydney is cramming for the test because it’s better late than never to study up.
"Better late than never,” the clerk said as he paid the fine.
My uncle showed up to the party hours after we did, but I guess it’s better late than never.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Parts of speech

Other

Offence vs offense

Participial phrase

At your earliest convenience

Humor or humour

Superlative adjective

Yours truly

Realise or realize

Comparative adjective

Sincerely yours

Learnt or learned

Nouns

Class act

Cancelled or canceled

Pronouns

Devil’s advocate


Frequently asked questions about better late than never

What is a similar saying to better late than never?

Some synonyms or near synonyms for the idiom “better late than never” include:

  • Never too late
  • Better to arrive late than not at all
  • The chance is still there

What is the origin of better late than never?

The idiom “better late than never” is a direct translation of the Latin phrase, potiusque sero quam nunquam. The first recorded use in the English language is from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

When should I use the phrase better late than never?

Use the idiom “better late than never” when you are discussing something that is being done behind schedule, or when responding to someone who is informing you of something they are doing in a tardy manner (e.g., “It’s great you’re learning how to cook; better late than never, I always say”).

It can be used in a sarcastic manner, particularly by the person receiving the action that is late (e.g., “Thanks for the birthday gift, even though it’s two months late. Better late than never, I guess”).

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Paige Pfeifer

Paige teaches QuillBot writers about grammar rules and writing conventions. She has a BA in English, which she received by reading and writing a lot of fiction. That is all she knows how to do.

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