Former vs. Latter – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ August 17, 2017/ Uncategorized

former versus latter

What’s the Difference Between Former and Latter?

Former and latter often appear together in formal or academic writing. You may also occasionally hear them in spoken English, especially in more formal settings such as a speech or during a business meeting.

When used together, these two words refer to two items in a sequence.

Former points to the first of the two items in the sequence.

  • Cats and dogs are both popular types of pets. However, the former requires less exercise.

points to the second, or last, of the two items in the sequence.

  • You can visit either the East Wing or the West Wing of the museum. The former has a display on Roman art, while the latter shows Native American art.

Although these words are often used in conjunction, it is also possible to see just one at a time. There are other meanings for each word that will be discussed in greater depth in the sections below.

Using Former in a Sentence

When to use former: Former is an adjective that has several different definitions, all of which relate to something that is previous to another thing or time.

For the first definition, former can mean the first of two items mentioned in a sequence. The second definition is something from a previous or earlier time. The third and final meaning indicates a position or state that a person had in the past, but no longer holds.

For example,

  • Costa Rica has both monkeys and sloths in its jungles. However, the former are much faster than the latter. (first meaning)
  • While we were in a former part of the conference, a large argument broke out. (second meaning)
  • This is my former husband, Frank. We divorced ten years ago. (third meaning)

There is also an idiom that uses former:

  • a shadow of one’s former self: a person who has declined over time from how great they used to be
    • Sarah used to be so outgoing and full of life. These days she seems depressed and never goes out. She’s a shadow of her former self. I’m worried about her.

Because all three meanings are related to something that happened first in time, the definitions are fairly similar.

Using Latter in a Sentence

When to use latter: Latter is also an adjective that has two similar definitions. Firstly, it can mean the last of two items mentioned in a sequence. Secondly, it can be used as a synonym for later or near the end.

For example,

  • The recipe calls for both butter and milk, although only the latter is essential. (first meaning)
  • During the latter part of the 20th century, huge strides had been made within the field of technology. (second meaning)

There aren’t any common expressions with latter. However, there is a religion that uses latter in its name, the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

Remembering Former vs. Latter

There are two ways to help you remember which word to use and when.

Former starts with the letter f, as does the word first. Former means the first of two items listed in a sentence.

Latter starts with the letter l, as does the word last. Latter means the last of two items listed in a sentence.

It’s also important to remember to use both of these words only in a sequence of two items. If the list has three or more items, these words won’t make sense.

Outside Examples

  • As the Senate prepares to vote this week on its Republican leaders’ quest to demolish the Affordable Care Act, a former GOP senator from a more bipartisan time is pleading with his successors to resist “bullying” to support a bill they do not yet understand. –Washington Post
  • The Angels traded two minor league pitchers to the Washington Nationals for Espinosa in December, hoping he could provide good defense and some pop at the plate. He did the former, but not the latter. –OC Register
  • And finally, there are variations of on-the-job training, ranging from informal mentorships and “learn by doing” to formal trade apprenticeships. The latter is quite common in the building trades, for example. –LA Times
  • Taking a break from indulging my inner stadium nerd, I visited the Tate Modern and the observation deck atop the Shard. The latter has toilets with full glass windows — making it a loo with an incredible view. –New York Post

Quiz: Latter vs. Former

Instructions: Select the correct word to fit in the blanks, either latter or former.

  • Pandas and koalas are both popular animals. However, only the__________________ is native to China. The ______________ is native to Australia.
  • That is my ______________ best friend. We had a big fight and don’t talk anymore.
  • He’s a member of the Church of ________ Day Saints.

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use former or latter? Use these words when referring to two listed items in a sequence.

  • Former means the first of the two items in the sequence.
  • Latter means the last of the two items in the sequence.

Remember that former always refers to something at an earlier or previous time or position, and latter is similar to the meaning of later.


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