When you’re late with sending your best wishes for someone’s birthday, you have plenty of options for saying you’re sorry you’re late and that you still wish them a happy birthday. If you’re using the word “belated,” however, have no doubt—happy belated birthday is the wrong way of doing it. Belated happy birthday is the correct formulation.
It seems that today it’s almost impossible to not know when someone’s birthday is, and we have social networks to thank for that. Facebook will notify you when one of your friends has a birthday and so will LinkedIn. Google+ will enter your connections’ birthdays into your calendar. Even Skype, which is not even a social network, will remind you to send birthday wishes to your contacts. But we still manage to forget about (or procrastinate on) sending best wishes for birthdays now and again. And that’s when the late greetings come into play.
Happy Belated Birthday vs. Belated Happy Birthday
The go-to late birthday greeting contains the phrase “happy birthday” and the word belated. It comes up in two variants—happy belated birthday, and belated happy birthday. One of the two might be more commonly used in the United States, and funnily enough, it’s the one that’s not exactly logical—happy belated birthday. Let’s see why.
The Meaning of Happy Belated Birthday
The word belated means that something is late or delayed. If you wrote the phrase happy belated birthday but changed the word belated to its synonym “late,” you’d get happy late birthday. And this might be correct if the birthday were the thing that was late, but since a birthday is the anniversary of someone’s birth it can’t be late—or early, for that matter. Greetings can be late, however, so it makes much more sense to say late happy birthday, which is why belated happy birthday is the correct formulation. When you write the greeting correctly, belated modifies the phrase happy birthday. When you write it incorrectly, happy modifies the phrase belated birthday. You should keep this in mind when sending other greetings as well.
Examples of Belated Happy Birthday
It was a belated ‘Happy Birthday’ to Her Majesty as families turned out for a celebratory cream tea yesterday. —Cambridge News
Canter knew things were on the mend when Axl’s close ally, Del James, wished Slash a belated happy birthday on Twitter on July 23 last year—something unthinkable unless Axl and Slash were reconciled. —The Daily Mail
A belated happy birthday to RTÉ’s popular head of news and current affairs, Kevin Bakhurst. —The Irish Times