Former vs Latter: Which Is First, and Which Is Second?

The former vs latter debate is not a challenging one once you understand what these two words each mean. This guide will help.

In English academic writing, precision is important in your word choice. The words former vs latter are similar in meaning and use, but not quite the same. If you are not sure which one to use, you need to learn the differences.

This guide will explain the differences between these two words, help you understand some synonyms and teach you the etymology of the words, so you can use them well.

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Understanding How to Use Former Vs Latter 

Former vs latter

Former and latter both refer to the order of events, but the jist of the two words is different. Here’s how you can distinguish the two in your writing.

Definition of Former

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word former means “coming before in time.” It can also mean “First in order” or “preceding in place or arrangement.” These uses are all adjectives.

Former has a lesser-known noun definition, which means “one that forms.” When comparing former to latter, chances are you are using the adjective form.

Here are some example sentences:

  • The former president had a very different approach to meeting with the press.
  • The former version of the movie had a male lead, not a female.
  • His former self prior to weight loss would have eaten two servings of ice cream, but he chose not to have any at all.

Synonyms for Former

Some synonyms for former include these words:

  • Preceding
  • Prior
  • Foregoing
  • Previous

Etymology of Former

The adjective use of former came onto the scene in the 12th century. It comes from the Old English word forme and the Middle English word forma.

Definition of Latter

Former vs latter
Latter can also mean being the second of two groups or things or the last item of several items

The word latter means “belonging to a subsequent time or period; more recent.” It can also mean “of, relating to, or being the second of two groups or things or the last item of several items.” 

These definitions are all adjectives. There is not another part of speech that latter can take. These example sentences show it used properly:

  • When asked if he wanted a cake or brownies for his birthday, he chose the latter.
  • In their latter days, many elderly adults need extra help around the house.
  • The latter stages of development in a child include many hormone swings.

Synonyms for Latter

Some words that have a similar meaning to latter include:

  • Bottommost
  • Closing
  • Final
  • Last
  • Latest
  • Terminal
  • Ultimate

Etymology of Latter

Latter was first used before the 12th century. It comes from the Old English word lætra which has its roots in læt, or late.

How to Remember the Difference

As you consider the differences between former vs latter, you need to remember how to keep them straight. One of the best grammar tips for confusing words is finding a tool to help you remember the difference.

The word former starts with the letter f. The word first also starts with the letter f. This makes sense since former things happen first in a list of events.

The word latter starts with the letter l. So does the word last. This makes sense since latter refers to items that are the last items in a list of particular things or events.

A Final Word on Former vs Latter

Former and latter both refer to items in a list or things that happen in a certain order. if you are talking about something that happens last or near the end, you will likely use latter. If you are talking about something that happens near the beginning or first, you will use former.

The English language has many words like this with similar uses, but different meanings. The more you get to know them, the better you will be at writing. If you liked this post, you might also be interested in our sneaked vs. snuck explainer.

FAQs on Former vs Latter

What is the difference between former and latter?

The word former refers to something that happened first or prior to now, while the word latter refers to the last item on the list or something that happens after.

How are former and latter used in a sentence?

Former and latter are usually used as adjectives. They are often considered the comparative form, which is used to compare a group of two items.

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  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.