The Quick Answer
- Belated Happy Birthday is the correct order of those words
- Happy Belated Birthday is incorrect
If you’ve missed your colleague’s (friend’s, family member’s, etc.) birthday and you are sending your best wishes late, there are many options for how to say that you’re sorry you’re late and to wish them a happy birthday nonetheless.
However, if you’re choosing to use the word “belated,” there is only one correct way of doing it: belated happy birthday is the right formulation. Yet, the incorrect happy belated birthday can be seen often in office emails and social media posts.
Speaking of social media, it seems that in today’s world it’s impossible not to know when someone’s birthday is. We receive Facebook notifications when one of our friends has a birthday. LinkedIn and Google+ will do the same, and sometimes even enter your connection’s birthdays right into your calendar. Even Skype – which is not even a social networking platform! – will remind you when it’s time to send birthday wishes to any of your contacts.
Yet we still manage to forget to send best wishes for birthdays every once in a while, perhaps because we are so bombarded by constant reminders. Then, there is also the confusion of European vs American date formulation that leads to missed birthdays, but we digress. Hence, the very common use of the late birthday greetings.
Happy Belated vs. Belated Happy
The most common place late birthday greeting uses the phrase “happy birthday” and the word belated. This combination produces two variants: happy belated birthday and belated happy birthday. One of them, although used quite a bit, is not very logical. Why? Well…
The Meaning of Happy Belated Birthday
As you know, belated means that something is delayed or late.
So if you substituted the word belated for late when writing “happy belated birthday,” you would get “happy late birthday.” This is obviously illogical. A birthday – an anniversary of the day someone was born – can not be late. But greetings sure can!
Therefore, it makes much more sense to reverse the two words to say late happy birthday, and hence the expression belated happy birthday is the correct formulation.
When the greeting is written correctly, the word belated modifies the phrase happy birthday. However, when written incorrectly, happy modifies belated birthday, which – as we discussed above – doesn’t make much sense.
This is something to keep in mind for other greetings as well.
A Few Examples:
“It was a belated ‘Happy Birthday’ to the senator as colleagues and friends turned out for an improv celebration.”
“He knew he and Alex were once again on good terms after receiving a belated happy birthday message from him on Twitter”
“A belated happy birthday to our CEO Kevin Lancelot”
Since your wishes are belated (late) rather than the birthday itself, the word “belated” needs to come before the greeting: belated happy birthday.