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  1. #1
    TheParser is offline VIP Member
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    Better late than never

    Yesterday I suddenly decided that I wanted to know the grammatical explanation for "better late than never."

    I am delighted to share my findings with interested members.

    One source * said that maybe it is translated from Latin:

    "It is better to do something late than to never do it at all."

    Another source ** said that the complete sentence is:

    "It is better to do well late than it is good to do well never."

    A third source *** says that Chaucer (in about the year 1386) may have been the first person to use this saying in

    print: "For bet than never is late."

    *****

    In my 75 years of life, I had never before thought about this matter. Well, better late than never.

    *****

    * Google "Better late than never Wiktionary."
    ** Google "Better late than never Key to the Questions Contained in Revised English Grammar" and then click on the "books" section.
    *** Google "Better late than never The Phrase Finder."

    P.S. Professor Quirk calls this expression and similar ones "aphoristic sentences." He gives his views on pages 843 - 844 in the 1985 edition of A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language.
    Last edited by TheParser; 15-Jul-2012 at 16:27.

  2. #2
    CarloSsS's Avatar
    CarloSsS is offline Senior Member
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    Re: Better late than never

    For what it's worth, exactly the same idiom (that is translated word for word) occurs in the Czech language. Any other languages where this is common?
    Please note that I'm not a teacher.

  3. #3
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    Chicken Sandwich is offline Senior Member
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    Re: Better late than never

    Quote Originally Posted by CarloSsS View Post
    For what it's worth, exactly the same idiom (that is translated word for word) occurs in the Czech language. Any other languages where this is common?
    The exact same idiom appears in Dutch as well. Beter laat dan nooit. As you can see, the word order is also the same.
    Last edited by Chicken Sandwich; 15-Jul-2012 at 22:31.

  4. #4
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: Better late than never

    "Lepiej pźno niż wcale" in Polish and "meglio tardi che mai" in Italian are also the same.

  5. #5
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: Better late than never

    "Melius tarde, quam nunquam" googles. I haven't gone through the links, so I don't know if it's a real thing or just a modern translation.

  6. #6
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    Re: Better late than never

    "Ms vale tarde que nunca" in Spanish, also literally "better late than never".
    Please be aware that I'm neither a native English speaker nor a teacher.

  7. #7
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    Re: Better late than never

    Absolutely the same idiom in Russian - "лучше поздно чем никогда"
    Amazingly, how much we have in common in the modern European languages due to Latin.

  8. #8
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Better late than never

    Could it be older than Latin if it's so widespread?

  9. #9
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Re: Better late than never

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    Could it be older than Latin if it's so widespread?
    Perhaps, but we still haven't got any proof that it was actually used in Latin. I've been looking through the links on the Google search page, and I've found nothing interesting.

  10. #10
    5jj's Avatar
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    Re: Better late than never

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    Perhaps, but we still haven't got any proof that it was actually used in Latin. I've been looking through the links on the Google search page, and I've found nothing interesting.
    Professor Jeremiah van Postule claims that the Neanderthal "ъɟɟē łēɖ Ɲ ņɚʄʘ" may be an early version of this. If so, it could suggest that the ancestors of the Romans may have acquired this from descendants of the Neanderthals.


    Postule, Jeremiah van (1866) ‘Tentative Musings on Neanderthal Aphorisms’ in Gruntfuttock P J (ed.) Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Protophilologists, Berlin: Unsinn Verlag.
    Last edited by 5jj; 18-Jul-2012 at 15:10. Reason: spacing

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