former, latter
1. 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)

is used in the phrase the latter, which contrasts with the former to refer to the second of two previously mentioned items so as to avoid lengthy repetition. See former, latter.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • latter — [ late ] v. tr. <conjug. : 1> • 1288; de latte ♦ Garnir de lattes. Latter un plafond. Latter à lattes jointives, à claire voie. ● latter verbe transitif Garnir quelque chose de lattes. latter v. tr. d1./d Garnir de lattes. d2./d Arg. Donner …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Latter — Lat ter, a. [OE. later, l[ae]tter, compar. of lat late. See {Late}, and cf. {Later}.] 1. Later; more recent; coming or happening after something else; opposed to {former}; as, the former and latter rain. [1913 Webster] 2. Of two things, the one… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • latter — Latter. v. a. Garnir de lattes. Cette maison est couverte, le comble est mis, il ne reste plus qu à latter, il la faut latter …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • latter — ► ADJECTIVE 1) nearer to the end than to the beginning. 2) recent: in latter years. 3) (the latter) denoting the second or second mentioned of two people or things. ORIGIN Old English, «slower»; related to LATE(Cf. ↑lateness) …   English terms dictionary

  • latter — [lat′ər] adj. [ME lattre < OE lættra, compar. of læt: it represents the orig. compar. form; LATER is a new formation] 1. alt. compar. of LATE 2. a) later; more recent b) nearer the end or close [the latter part of M …   English World dictionary

  • latter — index before mentioned, subsequent Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • latter — (adj.) O.E. lætra slower, comparative of læt late (see LATE (Cf. late) (adj.)). Sense of second of two first recorded 1550s. The modern LATER (Cf. later) is a formation from mid 15c …   Etymology dictionary

  • latter — [adj] latest, concluding closing, eventual, final, following, hindmost, lag, last, last mentioned, later, modern, rearmost, recent, second, terminal; concepts 585,799 Ant. earliest, former, preceding …   New thesaurus

  • latter — 01. Whereas the former proposal is more costly, the [latter] one would take much more time. 02. Nervousness about Y2K computer problems grew considerably in the [latter] half of 1999. 03. My grandfather had always been very healthy, but his mind… …   Grammatical examples in English

  • latter — lat|ter [ lætər ] function word *** Latter can be used in the following ways: as an adjective (only before a noun): the latter half of 1996 He considered his students either geniuses or idiots, and I fell into the latter category. as a pronoun… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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