Former vs. Latter: How to Use Former and Latter Correctly

There are words in the English language that sound fancy and very old-fashioned, and when you find them in a text you’re reading, you aren’t entirely sure what do they mean because you confuse them with other words. That’s something that happens to both native speakers and those who’re only learning English as a foreign language. An example of such a problem is the confusion between former vs. latter. They both are used when talking about one of the two things, but which refers to which?

Former vs. Latter: The Primary Differences

Key Takeaways

  • “Former” and “latter” help specify the first and second of two items, respectively.
  • “Former” refers to the first thing, while “Latter” refers to the second.

Former vs. LatterPin

Former vs. Latter: Definition

What Does “Former” Mean?

Former refers to the first item in a pair. When we present two items and then follow up with further details, we use former to signify we’re talking about the first item mentioned.

For example, if we say, “Apples and oranges are great; the former is my favorite,” it means apples are our favorite.

What Does “Latter” Mean?

Latter contrasts with former by referring to the second item in the pair. It helps us avoid repetition and keep our writing succinct.

Saying, “I enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction, but I prefer the latter,” indicates a preference for non-fiction.

Usage and Examples

Usage in Sentence

“Former” and “latter” are terms we use to refer to the first and second items, respectively, in a pair. It’s vital to remember that these terms should only be used when mentioning exactly two items. When we list more than two, it’s better to specify items by using descriptions like “the first item” or “the second item.”

  • Former: Refers to the first item or element mentioned in a list of two.
  • Latter: Refers to the second item or element mentioned in a list of two.

Here’s a table summarizing their correct usage within sentences:

Term Position in List Example Usage
Former First item of two “Between tea and coffee, I prefer the former.”
Latter Second item of two “Given the choice between running and walking, she enjoys the latter more.”

Examples in English

To offer a clearer picture, let’s consider a few examples that illustrate the usage of “former” and “latter” within the structure of English sentences.

  • When comparing two cars, you might say, “I found the former to be more fuel-efficient than the latter,” to indicate that the first car mentioned is more fuel-efficient than the second.
  • In literary discussions, one might say, “Of the characters, Alice is brave but reckless, while Todd is cautious; I identify with the latter,” indicating a preference for the second character mentioned.
  • Let’s say that you drink both tea and coffee, but you actually like tea a lot more. In order to sound very formal, you can say the following: “I drink tea and coffee but I prefer the former“.
  • And what does someone want to say when they say, “I’ve met both Mark and Amy but I’ve only become friends with the latter“? “Latter” indicates that they’re talking about the second of the two people. Therefore, this person is only friends with Amy who’s mentioned last.

*Note:

You shouldn’t use either former or latter too much because you’ll only end up confusing other people. They’ll have to go back in your text to refreshen their memory and remember which thing you’ve mentioned first or last. If they have to do so constantly, they’ll quickly lose interest in your piece of writing. Also, try to avoid these words when you’re speaking because your listener won’t have a text to refer back to, and most probably won’t understand which of the two things you’re talking about. Academic and formal writing, however, are places where former and latter would fit in perfectly.

One more thing to remember is that you can’t use these words when your list contains more than two items. For instance, you can’t say, “Among blue, red, and green, the former is my favorite color”. Even though there naturally is the first and the last item in every list, former and latter can only be used when you’re talking about two things. In the example above, it’s better to say, “Among blue, red, and green, the first one is my favorite color”. This way, your readers will definitely understand what you mean.

Tip to Remember the Difference

To help you remember this difference, here’s a small trick: “former” and “first” both start with “f”, while “latter” and “last” also start with the same letter.

Former vs. Latter Examples

Examples of Former

  • Of swimming and football, he much preferred the former.
  • She visited both London and Paris, but she preferred the former.
  • Between coffee and tea, she preferred the former.
  • The Beatles and the Rolling Stones are both iconic, but the former is my favorite.
  • Of the two routes, the former is the shorter path to take.
  • He had to choose between studying law or medicine, and he chose the former.
  • In the debate between hiking and biking, the former was more appealing to him.

Examples of Latter

  • When faced with the choice between painting and sculpture, she was more inclined to choose the latter.
  • The movie offered both suspense and comedy, but it was the latter that really made it a success.
  • Between an apple and an orange for a snack, he would always pick the latter.
  • In the discussion of climate change versus economic growth, the speaker emphasized the importance of the latter.
  • He had the option to travel by train or by plane, and he decided on the latter for its speed.
  • The book covered both historical events and personal anecdotes, with the latter adding a touch of intimacy to the narrative.
  • They offered her a promotion or a transfer to a different department, and she chose the latter to gain new experiences.

Example Sentences use “Former” and “Latter”

  • The tour offered a choice between a visit to the museum or a walk in the botanical gardens; I was more interested in the former, while my friend preferred the latter.
  • When it comes to desserts, some prefer chocolate cake and others favor fruit pie; my tastes lean towards the former, but my sister loves the latter.
  • The job required expertise in either Java or Python programming languages; I had experience with the former, but it was the latter that the company needed most.
  • We could start the meeting at 9 AM or 10 AM; the former time would mean an early start, but the latter would allow everyone to avoid rush hour traffic.
  • The instructor asked whether we wanted to focus on strength training or cardiovascular exercises during the session; the former would build muscle, while the latter would improve our stamina.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do ‘former’ and ‘latter’ signify when comparing two items?

‘Former’ and ‘latter’ are terms we use when dealing with two items. The ‘former’ refers to the first item mentioned, while the ‘latter’ points to the second.

Can you provide examples of how to use ‘latter’ correctly in a sentence?

If we say, “The seminar covers marketing and design; the latter subject is my favorite,” ‘latter’ clearly identifies ‘design’ as the favored subject.

How can one distinguish ‘latter’ from ‘later’ in terms of usage and meaning?

‘Latter’ is about position, designating the second of two things. ‘Later’ describes time, indicating a subsequent point or after something else has happened.

What are some tips for pronouncing the word ‘latter’ correctly?

For proper pronunciation, focus on a crisp ‘l’ at the start, a soft ‘d’ sound for the double ‘t’ (like in ‘water’ for American English speakers), and stress the first syllable: ‘LAT-er’.

How can ‘latter’ be used in legal contexts to refer to specific parts of a document?

In legal documents, ‘latter’ specifically points to a later part or provision among those mentioned previously, enabling precise references within a text.

What is the opposite of ‘latter’ when referring to two things?

The opposite is ‘former,’ which we use to refer to the first of two mentioned items or concepts.

Last Updated on December 8, 2023

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