Better Late Than Never – Idiom, Meaning & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Is it really better to be late than not show up at all? In some cases, yes. But this intent has multiple ways it can be used, so let’s take a closer look at the meaning and usage of the phrase “better late than never” in this guide I whipped up!

What’s the Meaning of Better Late Than Never?

Better Late Than Never Idiom Meaning Origin

When you say “better late than never,” you’re actually saying a proverb that means it’s better to do something late than to not do it at all. It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to take action or make a change.

I remember when my grandmother enrolled in a nursing course at the college in her fifties, and everyone thought she was wasting her time. But it was something she’d always wanted to do. This is a perfect example of “better late than never” because it was best she did it in her fifties than never do it and regret it later in life.

The Origin of Better Late Than Never

Would you believe that this proverbial phrase actually comes from classic literature? In 1386, author Geoffrey Chaucer used it in The Yeoman’s Tale, and the excerpt goes, “For better than never is late; never to succeed would be too long a period.”

What Are Some ‘Better Late Than Never’ Synonyms?

Try any of these phrases in place of “better late than never,” and your statement will still carry the same intent.

  • It’s never too late to start.
  • Better to do it late than to never do it at all.
  • Late is better than never.
  • That is not lost that comes at last.
  • Being tardy is better than a complete absence.
  • It’s never too late to mend.
  • Best late than never to happen.
  • A late start is better than no start.

Is It Rude to Say Better Late Than Never?

Using the classic idiom “better late than never” is usually not considered rude, but I suppose, like anything, it depends on the context. If you’re consistently late or always procrastinating on something, using this phrase might come across as sarcastic or passive-aggressive to those depending on you to finish the task on time.

Better Late Than Never Examples in a Sentence

Better Late Than Never Idiom Meaning Origin 1

Here are a few ways to use the phrase “better late than never” in a sentence.

  • I know I’m late to your birthday party but better late than never, right?
  • We’ve been putting off exercising for months, but it’s better late than never. My husband and I are starting today!
  • I finally got around to fixing that leaky faucet in the guest bathroom. Better late than never, I guess.
  • My son was two weeks overdue when I was pregnant, and we worried I’d have to get a C-section. But it was better late than never!

‘Better late than never:’ 83-year-old Santa Maria resident finally receives high school diploma after 65 years (The Santa Maria Times)

Try to Be on Time

So, while the phrase “better late than never” is an English idiom and proverb, and we mostly use it in a sarcastic or light-hearted sense, it can be considered rude if you’re always late or behind schedule and people are counting on you. So, just keep that in mind.