- former, latter1. These two words are used individually or contrastively (as the former and the latter) to refer to the first and second respectively of two people or things previously mentioned; in this role they are used attributively (before a noun) or, more usually, absolutely (with no noun following):
• He had to be either a woman or a cross-dresser. His money was on the former —J. Leavell, 2004
• My aunt advised me to steer clear of street scenes and go for parish churches or country houses. As a keen enthusiast of architecture, I went for the latter category —Derby Evening Telegraph, 2005.2. For the meaning of former contrasted with latter, there are several points of usage to consider:a) In their contrastive uses, former and latter are more often used without a following noun:
The relationship between capitalist and non-capitalist modes is one of exploitation, in which the former creams off the surplus from the latter —T. Cubitt, 1988. They are occasionally used attributively (No one mentioned the latter point and only four teachers the former —D. Pimm, 1988), but care needs to be taken in these cases to avoid possible ambiguity with the ‘having been previously’ meaning of former: the sentence I am sure the former view will prevail needs its context to clarify whether it is an earlier view or the first of two views that is intended.b) Former (in particular) and latter should only be used in writing when they are close to their antecedents, so that the reader is not forced to search back over earlier passages in order to establish the identity of the persons or things referred to.c) When more than two people or things are involved, former and latter should not be used; either first and last should be used, or the sentence should be rephrased: ☒ Though her bibliography includes Hecht, Snyder, and Daiches, she omits the latter's first name [correct to…Daiches' first name] —Modern Language Notes, 1957.d) When former and latter refer to something in the plural, they are regarded as plural in turn:
The former describe events which are possible if not mundane, while the latter are metaphors —J. Empson, 1989.3. Each word also has a meaning not shared correspondingly by the other. Former means ‘having been previously but no longer’ (as in her former partner, the former president, etc.); when another adjective or qualifier is present, former normally comes after it to ensure association with the noun:
• The Lockerbie bomber has revealed his despair at being jailed for mass murder in letters to a famous former inmate —Mirror, 2002.Latter denotes the last or most recent part of a process or period of time————————
• (He was relieved to be posted back to…the High Commission in Singapore during the latter stages of the Malayan Emergency —Times, 2007)late, former, one-time, sometimeAll these words are used occasionally (the first two a little more than that) to describe the earlier status of a person or thing. A late husband is one that is no longer alive, whereas a former husband (or ex-husband) is one that is no longer a husband (but is more likely than not still alive). Sometime is used more of the official function a person or thing has had, for example a building may be the sometime headquarters of the KGB; former and one-time are also possible here and would be more usual in everyday language. See also erstwhile; former, latter.
Modern English usage. 2014.