Better Late than Never: What Does this Common Idiomatic Phrase Mean?

Many people listening to a conversation in English will have heard the saying ‘better late than never’ likely on more than one occasion. But where did the term come from and what exactly do we use it to say?

Better Late Than Never

Better Late Than Never Meaning

The common idiom ‘better late than never’ is talking about the fact that despite being late, it is better than something not happening at all. For example, if you are expecting the delivery of a parcel which doesn’t arrive at the time you thought it would, but it does arrive a little later, it is better that the delivery turned up late than if it had never arrived at all.

Origin of this idiom

The phrase ‘better late than never’ was first written by the famous author Geoffrey Chaucer who used the term in his story The Yeomans tale which was written in 1386, so this phrase dates back a long time.

“Better Late Than Never” Examples

This phrase can be fitting in many different situations or conversations. It could be used when you arrive late at an appointment or event, if someone were to comment on your lateness, you could in turn use the phrase ‘better late than never’ in reply. The phrase can also be used to talk about the lateness of an object, as we mentioned previously, the delivery of parcel, for example.

Example Sentences

  • It’s been a long time coming but better late than never.
  • You can tell him now, remember better late than never.
  • It’s absolutely true that it’s better late than never.
  • Thank you, Mary. Better late than never.
  • He bought a house when he was over sixty, but it was better late than never.
  • I didn’t expect you had such a bad journey, but better late than never.
  • Turn it in today then. Better late than never.

Conversation Examples

You might hear a conversation similar to one of these examples, which contains the phrase ‘better late than never.’

Conversation 1:

  • Person 1: “I am four days past my due date for having this baby.”
  • Person 2: “It will be worth the wait once your baby is born.”
  • Person 1: “Yes, better late than never I suppose.”

Conversation 2:

  • Person 1: “The food at the restaurant took a long time to arrive.”
  • Person 2: “Was the food good though?”
  • Person 1: “Oh yes! It was some of the best food I have ever eaten.”
  • Person 2: “Well then, better late than never.”

Other Ways to Say the Phrase

Whilst ‘better late than never’ is the most common way to express this meaning, there are other ways you might say this.

  • That is not lost that comes at last
  • Being tardy is better than not at all
  • It’s never too late to mend
  • Better to late than never to happen

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