Happy Belated Birthday/Belated Happy Birthday
When someone has forgotten your birthday, they’re likely to send you a card reading “Happy Belated Birthday.” But this is a mistake. The birthday isn’t belated; the wishes are.
Better-phrased cards read “Belated Happy Birthday.” This form treats “Happy Birthday” as a phrase equivalent to something like “Late Congratulations.” (If you sent out your holiday cards in early January you might wish someone a “Belated Merry Christmas.”) Even clearer would be “Belated Happy Birthday Wishes,” but most people seem to consider this too wordy.
The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Spaces in Family Names" (June 7, 2011).