Is It Ever Too Late to Send a Thank-You Note?

The road to belated thank-you notes is paved with good intentions.

Write a Charming Thank-You Note
Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas

When it comes to sending thank-you notes, the general rule is simple and steadfast: The sooner the better. If you've spent the weekend at a friends' lake house, jot a quick message when you get home on Sunday evening. If you've received a little surcie or a birthday gift from a friend or neighbor, pen a note the very next day. There's a bit more wiggle room for sending thank yous after a wedding: The happy couple has a few months to mail out words of gratitude on their new stationery. But sometimes, even though we know that this is the expectation, we fail to send our thanks in a timely manner. And when that happens, we subscribe to another age-old adage: "Better late than never."

There are plenty of reasons people might not want to send a tardy thank-you: embarrassment that so much time has passed, the belief that it's better not to draw attention to the delay with a note, or even the cavalier assumption that the would-be recipient has long forgotten about the reason for the thank-you note anyway. But none of these reasons would hold up in Southern Living's—or more importantly, your mama's—etiquette court.

A sincere expression of gratitude and thanks is always, always appreciated, no matter how long overdue. Like an earnest compliment or heartfelt gift, a thank-you note is a thoughtful gesture that—more important than the specific thanks it expresses—shows the recipient that you value your relationship with them. And for that reason alone, we say it's never too late to send a thank-you note.

Of course, it can be hard to know exactly how to handle a weeks- or months-late thank-you note, so we've got you covered with a couple ideas for what to say, plus what to avoid.

What to Say in a Belated Thank-You Note

The tardiness of your note should be acknowledged up front, but not belabored. Here are two polite ways to address the delay without dwelling on it.

  • "I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to get this note in the mail to you, but please know my thanks are as sincere as ever."
  • "This note is long overdue, but my gratitude for ______ has only grown!"

And while it's appropriate to reference your tardiness, it's never okay to make excuses for it, no matter how valid those excuses may be. A belated thank-you note is not the place to enumerate the series of events that caused the delay in the first place.

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