Word Confusion: Former versus Latter

Posted August 15, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 1 September 2017

If you have a latter, you have to have a former, as they refer to comparisons of pairs of items. It doesn’t matter what the pairs are, just that there are two. And only two!

Once you have three or more, it becomes a matter of the superlative (you may want to explore the adverbial comparative / superlative or the adjectival comparative and superlative).

Of the two movies, I’d prefer to watch the former…and I’m sure you’d prefer to watch the latter.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

If you found this post on “Former versus Latter” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates. You may also want to explore a later post, “Ladder vs Later vs Latter“.

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Former Latter
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

A green monarch cocoon hanging from a fence post

“Monarch Butterfly Cocoon” is Greyson Orlando’s own work and is under the GFDL or CC BY 3.0 licenses, via Wikimedia Commons

This cocoon’s latter state is as a beautiful butterfly.

A monarch butterfly

“Monarch Butterfly at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden” is Richiebits’ own work, which he has released into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This butterfly’s former state was as a green cocoon.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective 1; Noun 2
Plural: formers
Adjective, attributive
[The former] The first-mentioned of two people or things

Preceding in time

  • Prior or earlier

Past, long past, or ancient

Preceding in order

  • Being the first of two

Having once, or previously, been

  • Erstwhile

A person or thing that forms something

  • A transverse strengthening part in an aircraft wing or fuselage

[In combination; chiefly British] A person in a particular school year

[The latter] The second-mentioned of two people or things

Situated or occurring nearer to the end of something than to the beginning

  • Recent
He continued to bask in his former glory.

Yeah, he’s a former student of mine.

It was mentioned during a former stage in the proceedings.

Oh, aye, in former times we milked the cows by hand.

Our former manufacturing process was too costly.

The former suggestion was preferred to the latter.

Bill Clinton is a former president.

Ah, she’s one of those opinion-formers.

“Where the tail plane and the fin are fitted in, there are two transverse formers in thicker wood” (Aerial Age, Volume 5).

I can’t tell them the fifth-formers did the damage!

It took place in the latter half of 1989.

Heart disease dogged his latter years.

The project had low cash flows in its latter years.

The Russians could advance into either Germany or Austria — they chose the latter option.

Adverb: formerly Adjective: latter-day
Adverb: latterly
History of the Word:
1 Middle English from Old English forma + -er.

2 Middle English, 1300-50, fourmer.

Old English lætra meaning slower and comparative of læt.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Pinterest Photo Credits:

President Bush Remarks Over Georgia is a White House photo by Luke Sharrett and is in the public domain while Barack Obama on the Primary was photographed by Steve Jurvetson and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; both are via Wikimedia Commons.