What Is Belated? – Usage, Meaning & Examples

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Adjectives are the detailing words in the English language. They help describe and clarify sentences and help an author bring their words to life.

But they need to be used correctly, or they can create confusion.

Belated is an adjective that defies these rules, however. Not because it can be used incorrectly but because it is acceptable to use the word incorrectly. This can create a lot of confusion for language learners, which is why understanding what the word means and how it should be used is essential. Let’s take a closer look at its use with plenty of examples.

What Does Belated Mean?

What Is Belated Usage Meaning Examples

Belated is an adjective meaning made late, having been delayed, sent too late, or long-awaited. It applies to something that is late or perceived as late—for example, a birthday card or a delayed apology.

Adjectives describe or modify nouns and pronouns. They can either occur before the noun or after the noun. Adjectives that occur after the noun are called predicative adjectives and almost always need to follow a linking verb, such as “to be,” in order to connect the subject to the adjective within the sentence.

For example:

  • The student was proud.

The “student” is the subject, “proud” is the adjective, and “is” is the linking verb.

When applying this to belated, be sure to apply belated to the thing that is late.

For example:

  • She received a belated recognition for her humanitarian work, but at least her name was finally recorded for all her hard work.
  • The belated apology received no reply, suggesting that he was intensely disappointed with the situation and was unable to forgive what had been said.
  • After working all night on the project, I came to the belated realization that none of the data we inputted had been saved.

Is Happy Belated Birthday Incorrect?

Following these rules, it becomes apparent that belated is often used illogically, especially in happy belated birthday and similar phrases. What’s late is the birthday wish, not the birthday, so the adjective is logically misapplied in this phrase.

But the alternatives are usually wordy—for example, I’d like to belatedly wish you a happy birthday is more cumbersome than a happy belated birthday—so we should probably consider such phrases involving belated idiomatic and leave it at that.

Still, if you want the language of your birthday wishes to be logical, make sure belated applies to the thing that’s late.

Synonyms of Belated

To help you remember how to use belated, consider replacing it with a synonym. This provides you the means to properly place the adjective and ensure the sentence makes sense.

  • Delayed
  • Late
  • Tardy
  • Overdue
  • Delinquent
  • Behind
  • Slow
  • Postponed
  • Detained
  • Unhurried

For example:

  • The train was held due to the belated (delayed) passenger arrival.
  • The train was held due to the belated (delinquent) passenger’s arrival.
  • The train was held due to the late arrival of the belated (detained) passenger.
  • The train was held due to the belated (postponed) passenger arrival.

Origins of the Word Belated

Belated Ngram
Belated usage trend.

Belated had its origins in the late 16th and early 17th centuries when it was used to describe being “overtaken by night” due to a delay or being late. It was used as a past-participle adjective of the word belate, which comes from the Late English late, meaning “slow, lax, or sluggish,” and besmirch, meaning “to tarnish someone’s reputation.”

In this sense, belated had a connotative meaning to suggest a person’s (usually a young lady) reputation was ruined due to staying out past dark without a chaperone.

By the 1660s, belated had taken on the meaning of “past due or behind date” and no longer had a tarnished reputation associated with it.

Let’s Review

Use belated as an adjective to describe a subject as being late or delayed. Adjectives should be with the subject, either directly before or afterward, with a linking verb, to provide correct grammar usage. Sometimes, such as when people say “Happy Belated Birthday,” it is used incorrectly, but social norms generally accept this misuse because people know what it means.

However, take care to use it properly whenever possible.