Grammar 5 min read

Is it Correct to Say Happy Belated Birthday?

Main Takeaways:

  • Belated refers to something delayed or late, such as a belated apology.
  • You typically can’t use belated to describe someone with punctuality problems.
  • Happy belated birthday is not grammatically correct because belated modifies birthday.
  • Belated in belated happy birthday describes your greeting.
  • Add -ly to make belated an adverb.

Even self-proclaimed grammar experts write Happy belated birthday on social media. However, this widely accepted phrase is actually incorrect. Learn why it’s wrong—and what you should say instead—in this helpful guide.

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In an ideal world, we’d never have to wish someone a happy belated birthday. After all, social media sends greeting reminders for everyone, from Grandma to your cousin’s third-grade teacher.

But, sometimes, it happens. And, better late than never. So, what do you say? Happy belated and belated happy birthday?

How can we share warm birthday wishes (albeit late) while honoring grammatical guidelines?

Is it Correct to Say Happy Belated Birthday?

When people want to send late birthday greetings, they often declare, Happy belated birthday! or “Happy late birthday!” But these are not correct. The correct way to wish some one well when you miss their special day is “Belated Happy Birthday.” What’s the difference? When you say “Happy belated birthday,” you imply that the birthday itself was late and not your greetings.

If you want to wish someone well after missing his/her birthday, you say
If you want to wish someone well after missing his/her birthday, you say “Belated Happy Birthday,” not “Happy Belated Birthday.”

Whether you like it or not, a birthday comes right on schedule each year. When you say “Belated happy birthday,” you refer to your greetings being belated and not the birthday. So, make sure to place belated in front of happy birthday, not in the middle. With the correct sentence structure, belated is sure to modify your greeting, not someone’s annual trip around the sun.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the definition of belated and then explore grammar rules for late happy birthday greetings.

What Does Belated Mean?

The word belated is an adjective. It describes something that happens later than expected, such as a holiday greeting or anniversary celebration. You can use belated to describe an action or event.

Belated meaning: arriving or occurring later than the usual time

Examples of Belated Actions

My ex’s belated apology came about ten years too late.
Her belated push for inclusion nearly cost her company a lawsuit.
Sometimes his boss honors belated requests for schedule changes when she’s feeling nice.
Jim’s mom was upset about his belated birthday greetings.

Examples of Belated Events

Janna shares custody of her son, so she’s hosting a belated Thanksgiving feast this year.
We hate crowded restaurants, so we’re enjoying a belated Valentine’s Day celebration on February 21st.
The Smiths scheduled a belated anniversary dinner when their babysitter was available.
The school hosted a belated awards ceremony due to inclement weather.

Can You Use Belated to Describe a Person?

We usually don’t use the word belated when describing an individual with punctuality problems.

My belated coworker, Karen, always clocks in 15 minutes after she’s scheduled.

Karen isn’t belated. She’s late.

My coworker, Karen, was tardy for work again today.

Karen can be tardy for work, but she can’t show up for work belated.

However, sometimes it makes sense to describe a person with the word belated.

For example, we can say a belated representative was appointed after the deadline. It’s also okay to tell your boss made a belated appearance at an important meeting.

Examples

“Please accept my belated birthday wishes,” John said sheepishly.
I wished my sister a belated happy birthday but only after realizing today was Tuesday, not Monday.
Jaydan bought a planner so she could stop sending belated birthday greetings.

We know what some of you are thinking right now. And yes, many greeting cards break grammar rules.

Card aisles are filled with happy belated birthday cards and gifts but resist temptation while shopping. Just because the phrase is socially acceptable doesn’t mean it’s correct.

Can You Use Belated as an Adverb?

Transform belated from an adjective to an adverb by adding -ly at the end of the word. You might not see or use this word often, though. After all, wishing someone a belated happy birthday is easier than the alternative.

Pro tip: Add -ly to make belated an adverb.
I’m embarrassed to belatedly wish you a happy birthday.

While correct, this statement is wordy and sounds overly formal. You could say, “Sorry, I missed your birthday.”

If you go the belatedly route, remember the word modifies a verb. It doesn’t modify the birthday itself.

Examples

The company owner belatedly wishes everyone a Happy New Year.
The principal belatedly announces the resumption of classes.
The mayor belatedly honors the former council member for his contributions to the city.

You can belatedly wish someone a happy birthday, but you can’t say, “I hope you have a happy birthday belatedly.” So like with happy belated birthday, it just doesn’t make sense.

Read More: Happy New Year! Or Is It Happy New Years?

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Krista Grace Morris

Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

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