Former vs. Latter – Usage With Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Whether you’re a native speaker or only learning English as a foreign language, some terms can confuse you with their meanings. One good example is former vs. latter. 

This guide covers the difference between former and latter. It will also show examples of how to use the two words in a sentence.

“Former” vs. “Latter”: What’s The Difference?

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Former is a noun or adjective that denotes reference to the first thing or person mentioned among two items. It also means the first-mentioned person or thing. 

Latter is the opposite term of former, meaning the second mentioned of two items. It also means something from a previous or earlier time.

Additional Meanings

Former vs. latter have several other definitions, making them prevalent in American books and British books. However, their uses have declined since direct reference shows better clarity in books, magazines, and other materials. 

You can also enhance your work’s readability by showing your message’s exact meaning. Here are the additional meanings of former and latter.

Former can show additional reference to historical people or former figures. For example:

  • The former president released an annual list and led the United States into a collective agreement.

According to the Associated Press Stylebook, you shouldn’t capitalize former in this context if it comes before the person’s title. 

Former is also associated with the late 16th-century term quondam, which means that once was, and the archaic adjective, whilom.

The origin of former is forma, which is then paired with the suffix -er to show a comparative meaning.

Aside from meaning second-mentioned, latter also refers to something in a more advanced time. It can also mean near the end. For example:

  • The latter part of the 19th century saw the Johnson County War in Wyoming. 

The term’s origin comes from lætra, an Old English word with the same meaning. One famous example is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” which is the full name of the Mormon Church.  

Exceptions to the Rules

The use of former and latter may sound simple, but there are exceptions to the English language rule.

Never use former and latter when referring to groups of three or more. Some may think it’s acceptable, but it can confuse the audience while reading. Instead, use first and last. 

Some style guides do not recommend using former and latter at all. That’s because they cause vagueness on the reader’s part. It also unnecessarily draws their attention to a previous statement, disrupting their reading experience.

It’s much better to mention the same noun you’re denoting again to make your statement clever. This will avoid potential nuisances and inconveniences for the audience. 

Make sure to apply these basic grammar lessons to your future writings. Don’t forget these guidelines when giving proofreading or essay writing services. 

How Do You Use Former and Latter in a Sentence

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The words former vs. latter don’t always appear in casual text because they sound odd in everyday conversations or speech. An easy-to-remember grammar tip is not to use them when talking because your audience can’t backread the preceding statements.  

But you can use former and latter in the following genres: 

  • Technical writing.
  • Business writing.
  • Formal writing.
  • Academic writing.

Use former when you’re referring to the first of two items from a previous sentence or statement. For example

  • They’re serving cupcakes and yogurt. The former option favors her. 

Use latter to denote the second mentioned of two items. For example:

  • We chose between Hawaii and New York, but she liked the latter plan much better. 

Former and Latter Examples as Nouns

Former and latter are typically used as nouns. They are less specific names for the first-mentioned or second-mentioned names in the previous sentence. Here are some examples of the two words as nouns in a sentence.

  • The angry person was yelling at Wanda or Stella. I think she was mad at the former.
  • Both laptops are excellent, but the latter has more storage for my movies and Word documents. 
  • Day and night lie at the heart of “Tristan,” the former representing the glaring, intrusive reality from which Tristan and Isolde struggle to escape in their love, the latter their “wondrous realm,” as Tristan sings of it, of freedom, of passion, and ultimately of oblivion. [NY Times]

Former and Latter Examples as Adjectives

Former and latter can also be used as attributive adjectives. One of the most common grammar rules is that adjectives come before the nouns they modify.

  • Emily got accepted to Yale and Brown for college. But the latter university is her dream school. 
  • The former chairman of the club is also a member of the organization. 
  • “The indictment of the Trump Org will likely result in its destruction as a viable entity,” Richard Signorelli, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, tweeted in June 2021. [Forbes]

Can You Use Latter for Three Items?

No, do not use former and latter for larger lists or items of three or more on your piece of writing, whether formal or informal writing. This English grammar rule might confuse people, but it’s simple. Only use former and latter in times where two items are mentioned.

Former and Latter Synonyms

Take a look at these words you can use instead of former.

  • One-time.
  • Late.
  • First-mentioned.
  • First.
  • Whilom.
  • Anterior.
  • Ex.
  • Past. 
  • Precedent.
  • Earlier.

Here are some synonyms for latter.

  • Last-mentioned.
  • Second-mentioned.
  • Last.
  • Closing.
  • Final.
  • Later. 
  • Most recent.
  • Latest.

Ladder vs. Latter

Do not confuse the two words just because of their similar sound. A ladder is a device people use for reaching high surfaces or objects. Latter is also an English term that shows explicit references to the second-mentioned item.

Summary of Former vs. Latter

I hope this guide has taught you the difference between former vs. latter and the grammar myths surrounding their usage. Remember:

  • Former means the first item mentioned.
  • Latter means the second item mentioned. 

Avoid using former and latter too much in your writing since common language results in dull and unclear statements. Instead, use direct references for a clearer message.