Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you heard somebody use the phrase “better late than never” in English?

If you really think about it, do you understand what it means at the core?

This is one of those phrases that may come up often in conversation, and so you want to understand what it means and how it works.

We’re going to look at this phrase so that you understand how to use it, how it applies to life and learning English—and then you can start using it yourself in a seamless way.

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Looking At A Common Phrase

So have you heard this expression “better late than never” used in conversation?

It may seem pretty straightforward, but you want to be sure that you understand it well so that you can use it properly.

It’s a great phrase and once you see how to use it and when it applies ,then you can start to practice using it on your own.

This phrase is not new here though, as we did an IELTS episode where we talked about it before.

Check out this episode so you have this helpful background before you begin using this phrase.

It’s High Time You Learn Today’s Idioms!

Today we will dive into this more on that AEE side, so that you can start to understand it on a conversational level.

If you have heard the expression “better late than never” used then you may wonder what exactly it means.

It’s the idea that it’s good something happens, even if it is not when it should have or could have happened.

It’s definitely a good thing that it occurred, but it just may not have been in the timeframe that you expected or were hoping for.

Looking At Instances Where This May Apply

It can be quite helpful when you look at a phrase such as this, to consider when you might apply this type of thinking.

The phrase “better late than never” works in certain situations, and it can become a mindset shift for you too which works quite well.

Here we look at a couple of instances where you might expect to use this sort of phrase in the best way possible.

  • Someone finally does something they have been wanting to do , but were held back for some reason. It may have been due to no fault of their own, or circumstances completely outside of their control. Whatever the reason, something was delayed and now it’s time to be happy and celebrate this accomplishment. You could say something like “She got her graduate degree after 10 years. It took a while, but there was so much going on in her life. It doesn’t matter. She did it! Better late than never!”
  • Someone is late on something, like a responsibility, but they still got it done. This could also be used at work, but could be rude if you aren’t careful. If however somebody turns something in or gets something accomplished that was delayed or later than anticipated, then this phrase could work quite well. Let’s look at a short roleplay of this with two colleagues where this phrase may work perfectly.

A:”Oh man, sorry I am just finishing this part now. Better late than never.”

B: “Yeah, it’s no big deal. We’re really not behind. We can still make the deadline.” This approach works and implies that you are close to each other. Using this phrase here is perfectly acceptable and works well given the situation and relationship.”

A: “I can’t believe he finally left the company after 10 years. He had wanted to leave since the first month!”

B:” I know. I’m really happy for him. Better late than never!”

This situation works just fine, but you do want to be sure that you are mindful of the tone of voice that you use.

Intonation is always important, but is crucial here with a phrase like this.

If you were to say “better late than never” in a way that was sarcastic, negative, or rude, then it won’t work well.

Be mindful of the situation, the relationship you have with this person, and that it will be a good fit given those circumstances.

It can be used sarcastically and with humor, but you have to be able to pull it off so think it through before you use it.

How Does This Apply To You?

So this may make you wonder how this applies to you as the listener?

How can you use this in your life and make it work?

What instances are there when you might use this or at least adjust to this way of thinking or overall mindset?

Here are a few things to keep in mind where this is concerned so that you are realistic with timelines and make this work cohesively in your life.

  • Keep this in mind when you get discouraged: Sometimes the timing of something isn’t what you hoped for or anticipated. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen though, and so you want to be sure to stay patient and don’t get discouraged. The right things will happen, but it may not be in the timing or the way that you anticipated. Sometimes being patient and waiting to see what happens is the best possible thing!
  • Don’t rush -it’s not a race! Though it’s not always easy, try to keep things in perspective. There is no award for finishing something first. Just take your time and wait to see what the outcome is, because you might be surprised if you change your approach and mindset. Even to those who tend to rush through things, you will find that taking your time sometimes works best.
  • Learn in small doses: This is a perfect time to see that “a little goes a long way.” Rather than taking on too much and getting overwhelmed, instead take your time with things and let them really sink in. Small doses allow you to absorb what you are taking in and learning. Break it up into smaller and more digestible pieces so that you can figure out where you are at, what you need next, and how to make it all work.

Of course, all of this depends upon the task that you are working through.

If you are preparing for a test or have a need with a defined timeline with it, then keep that in mind.

There may be pressure situations like that where you have to study for a test on a certain date, and so you may need to adjust your mindset and approach a bit.

If however you are in a situation where you can take your time and really let it all come together in a slower and more concise way, then that may serve you well.

Take a look at what you are dealing with and the situation at hand, and then try to apply these rules or steps to it—this will serve you well and help you to master what you are working at in a calm and productive way.


Sometimes things don’t happen in the way that we want them to, and that’s a part of life.

You may have a timeline in mind when it comes to taking on a task or issue in your life, but things don’t always happen in the timing which we hope for.

Use the phrase “better late than never” to help you adjust your thinking and the way that you approach things.

Sometimes things have a way of working themselves out, even if they may not seem that way at first.

Be patient, change your mindset, and see how this approach can help you in achieving what you want in a calmer and more productive manner.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.  

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