What does the idiom "Better late than never" mean?

Are you using the idiom Better late than never but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the Better late than never idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "Better late than never"


The idiom 'better">Better late than never' is used to express approval when someone or something arrives tardily, despite it being better to have arrived earlier. It implies that arriving late is better than not arriving or doing something at all. In other words, even if it is too late, completing the task or arriving at the expected time is preferred to not doing it at all.


This idiom is believed to have originated during the 16th century when it was used in a play by John Heywood in 1523. The original phrase was "Better late than never, though never so late." The meaning and usage of the phrase has largely remained the same since its inception.


This idiom is mainly used to encourage someone who arrives late or is late in finishing a task, in the hope that they complete it despite the delay. It is used in a positive and encouraging light. The phrase is also used in the opposite sense to refer to people who are always tardy, so it is important to understand the context in which it is being used.

Example Sentences

  • John was late for the meeting but his boss said, "Better late than never!"
  • My friend finally finished his homework, even though it was days late, but I said, "Better late than never!"
  • My brother is always late for appointments, so I joked, "Better never than late!"

The meanings of the words in the "Better late than never" idiom

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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