Former vs. Latter – How To Dinstinguish Them

26.10.23 Commonly confused words Time to read: 5min

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In the world of language, where words often dance on the fine line between clarity and confusion, there are pairs of commonly confused words that can leave even the most eloquent speakers confused for a mument. “Former” and “latter” are two words that can be confusing when they appear in academic writing. However, it is crucial to understand their distinction, as they cannot be used interchangeably. This article will shed light on the distinction between “former” and “latter”.

Definition of “former vs. latter”

“Former” and “latter” are noun phrases, used to distinguish between two items that have been previously mentioned. This is done to free up space and cut down on the number of instances. To refer to previously mentioned items in a list of two things, “former” and “latter” are both always used with the definite article “the”.

Former

… functions as an adjective and noun phrase that stands in for the first item in a previously mentioned list.

Latter

… functions as an adjective and noun phrase that points to the concluding person or item in a sequence.

To summarize, both terms are used to refer to two items or entities previously mentioned. “Former” refers to the first of the two, while “latter” points to the last or second.

Using the word “former”

The word “former” might refer to the first item on a list, or to previous states, roles, or positions. It can also be used as an adjective to describe something that once was but no longer is.

“Former” as an adjective

“Former” as an adjective describes a previous status, role, or position somaeone or something once held but no longer does. Here are some examples:

Examples

  • Melissa keeps in touch with her former classmates through social media.
  • The former world record was broken last year.
  • My former boss now runs a different department.

“Former” as a noun phrase

While “former” is primarily an adjective, it can be part of a noun phrase where it describes a noun, indicating its previous role or status. Here are some examples where “former” is used within noun phrases:

Examples

  • The former president visited the university to give a lecture.
  • His former teacher remembered him as a diligent student.
  • They attended a reunion with several former classmates.

Tip for using “former” correctly

Always ensure that it is used in contexts where there are two referenced items, or when indicating a past status or role. If you’re distinguishing between two mentioned items, “former” should always relate to the first of the two. Synonyms for “former” compile of “previous”, “past”, “old”, and many more.

Synonyms Examples
Previous The former manager was known for his strict policies.
The previous manager was known for his strict policies.
Past The former president prioritized fundraising.
The past president prioritized fundraising.
Old The former office had a unique charm, but the new one is more spacious.
The old office had a unique charm, but the new one is more spacious.

Using the word “latter”

The term “latter” is primarily used to refer to the second of two following things previously mentioned. However, it can also have a few other, less common usages.

“Latter” as an adjective

“Latter” can be used as an adjective to refer to the second of two things previously mentioned, or to indicate something happening or existing toward the end of a period of time or sequence. Here are some examples using “latter” as an adjective:

Examples

  • Of the two methods, the latter is more efficient.
  • The latter half of the book was filled with unexpected plot twists.
  • In the latter stages of the game, the team made a surprising comeback.

“Latter” as a noun phrase

The term “latter” is commonly used as an adjective. When it’s part of a noun phrase, it describes a noun by indicating its position as the second of two items previously mentioned. Here are some examples of “latter” used within noun phrases:

Examples

  • Between tea and coffee, the latter drink is stronger.
  • Both cats and dogs are great, but the latter animal barks.
  • You can use cash or a card; the latter method is faster.

Tip for using “latter” correctly

If you’re referring to one out of a sequence of more than two items, “latter” isn’t the right choice. Instead, you should use terms like “the last” or “the final”. Synonyms for “latter” are “second”, “last”, and  “subsequent”.

Synonym Examples
Second Between the apple and the orange, I'd choose the latter as my favourite food.
Between the apple and the orange, I'd choose the second as my favourite food.
Last Among the two books, I preferred the latter one.
Among the two books, I preferred the last one.
Subsequent Between the introduction and analysis, the latter was more detailed.
Between the introduction and analysis, the subsequent was more detailed.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

Fill in the blank spaces with either “former” or “latter” to complete each sentence correctly. Use the second tab to cheque your answers.

  1. In a race, the first runner to cross the finish line is the ______.
  2. She was considering two job offers: one in marketing and the ______in finance.
  3. Among his hobbies, John enjoys playing the piano and the ______.
  4. Sarah has two cats, Fluffy and Whiskers. Fluffy is the ______of the two.
  5. In a debate, the first speaker presents their argument, and the ______ defends it.
  6. We interviewed two candidates for the job. The ______ had more relevant experience.
  7. The ______ part of the film was much more exciting than the beginning.
  8. Our holiday plans include visiting Paris in the first week and London in the ______.
  9. There are two options for lunch: pizza or salad. I’d like the ______, please.
  10. In the race, Jane finished first, and Lisa came in second. Jane is the ______.
  1. In a race, the first runner to cross the finish line is the former.
  2. She was considering two job offers: one in marketing and the latter in finance.
  3. Among his hobbies, John enjoys playing the piano and the latter.
  4. Sarah has two cats, Fluffy and Whiskers. Fluffy is the former of the two.
  5. In a debate, the first speaker presents their argument, and the latter defends it.
  6. We interviewed two candidates for the job. The former/latter had more relevant experience.
  7. The latter part of the film was much more exciting than the beginning.
  8. Our holiday plans include visiting Paris in the first week and London in the latter.
  9. There are two options for lunch: pizza or salad. I’d like the former, please.
  10. In the race, Jane finished first, and Lisa came in second. Jane is the former.

FAQs

Former means “the first of two” or “previous”.

Latter means “the second of the two”.

The former starts with an “f” and refers to the first thing, while the latter starts with an “l” and refers to the last.

No. These terms are specifically for distinguishing between two items. For longer lists, use terms like “first”, “middle”, or “last”.

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