Often, this phrase is used somewhat sarcastically. It could apply to a wide variety of situations, and one can expect to hear it used by many different people. If used with a specific tone, it could come off as insulting or rude, so readers have to keep this in mind when using it in more professional situations. “Better late than never” can also be used genuinely to express relief that something happened, even if it happened late.
Explore Better late than never
“Better late than never” Meaning
The phrase can be applied to a wide variety of situations. It can be used ironically, suggesting that the speaker is actually quite irritated with whatever occurred “late” or could be used genuinely. Most commonly, the phrase appears in moments of relief or exasperation. It’s quite short and therefore very easy to remember and apply to various moments of one’s life. The phrase is also well-known. This means that it can be used by different people at different times, and one can assume that those they’re speaking to are going to understand what’s going on.
Like many proverbs, this one has a literary origin. It’s though to have been used for the first time in ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer. Specifically, it appeared in The Yeoman’s Tale, dating to around 1386. At the time, the phrase read:
For bet than never is late.
This is a great example of how language changed over time, and this proverb was a part of it. Often, a phrase will be used one way when it’s first coined. Then, over time, it changes the meaning. Readers might even find in some examples that the words used shift too.
When To Use “Better late than never”
It’s possible to use “better late than never” in a wide variety of situations. It could be used when one feels genuinely relieved that something happened. Or, it might be used when someone wants to sarcastically remark about something’s late arrival. When used in the latter context, the speaker means the opposite of what they’re saying. The “thing” that arrived late is totally useless. For example, one might use this phrase when they’re describing a taxi that arrives late after they’ve already paid for another mode of transportation. The taxi is useless to them now, and they’ve wasted money.
When someone uses the phrase genuinely, they might apply it to any situation, from a package that arrives late but intact to a visitor who lands safely albeit late. In both of these situations, it’s better that the item/person arrived late than didn’t make it at all.
- Thank goodness you’re here. Better late than never!
- It’s better late than never, you should just be glad it got here.
- Our food is finally here. Better late than never I guess.
- Don’t expect him to ever turn up, he’s never heard the phrase ‘better late than never.’
- I ran into an issue on the way here, better late than never, I think!
Why Do Writers Use “Better late than never?”
Writers use “better late than never” in the same way and for the same reasons that it’s used in everyday conversations. The phrase could be incorporated into a dialogue between two or more characters. Or, it might be used in a narrator’s description of a scene. With the latter in mind, the writer might use their narrator to describe what a group of people is doing. For example, one might come to a very obvious revelation, and the narrator could comment to the reader that it’s “better late than never” that they figured it out.
People use this phrase when they want to express relief that something happened, even if it happened late. It’s also used when someone wants to sarcastically comment on the lateness of something that finally occurs.
This phrase originated with Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. It featured in The Yeoman’s Tale.
This phrase is a proverb. It shares a piece of wisdom that’s easily understood by anyone reading or hearing it.
- A penny saved is a penny earned.
- A bad workman blames his tools.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
- It’s always darkest before the dawn.
- You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
- Slow and steady wins the race.