Context: We're discussing about how we used to get penalized in school for being late to classes, many years ago.

I wanted to say:

In my old school, it was hilarious to see my late friends get penalized.

Here, late friends is supposed to mean that they were not on time. But to me, it almost sounds as if I'm talking about my friends who are now deceased.

How else can I refer to a person who is late?

  • 4
    Have you considered just rewording to something like "In my old school, it was hilarious to see my friends get penalized for being late?" This would remove the ambiguity you're worried about, and would also make it a little clearer that it was the lateness that led to the penalties.
    – user867
    May 3, 2013 at 5:10
  • @user867: Of course not! Otherwise I wouldn't have asked. Thanks!
    – Saturn
    May 3, 2013 at 5:31
  • Amusing question:1 May 3, 2013 at 7:44
  • 1
    Late as in "the late Dentarthurdent"?
    – user32047
    May 3, 2013 at 12:29
  • The default sense here is 'deceased', but obviously the other sense is demanded bt pragmatics. However, it sounds unnatural, and Orwell tells us to avoid such. Feb 7 at 23:36

2 Answers 2


Use a different adjective, like tardy or unpunctual. Or use a different construct, like

to see the late-comers penalized


To my ear, your sentence is totally fine. 'Late' to mean 'deceased' is a much less common usage and no one is going to be confused.

  • +1 for a common sense answer. Besides, the slight double meaning tends to arrest the reader’s thought for a moment, which helps the writer in making their point.
    – user205876
    Jul 23, 2022 at 15:24

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