Commonly Confused: former/first and latter/last

May 30, 2006

The proper usage of "former" and "latter" depends upon an understanding of the definitions of these words.

former – (adjective) first-mentioned of two

latter – (adjective) last-mentioned of two

Notice that these definitions contain the words "of two." This means that "former" and "latter" can only be used in reference to two people or things. If a comparison contains more than two people or things, use "first" or "last."

first – (adjective) preceding all others in a series

last – (adjective) coming after all others in a series

Look at the proper usage of "former" and "latter" in this sentence:

Jack and Jill went up the hill; the former fell down and broke his crown while the latter came tumbling down after him.

Jack and Jill are two people. In this sentence, Jack is the former and Jill is the latter. This sentence is correct because the comparison is between two people.

Jack and Jill and Bob went up the hill; the latter watched the other two fall down.

This sentence is incorrect. The series contains more than two people, so "latter" should not be used. Bob is the last person in the series. Replace "latter" with "last" to correct the sentence.

Jack and Jill and Bob went up the hill; the last watched the other two fall down.

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9 Responses to “Commonly Confused: former/first and latter/last”


  1. Thank you for this explanation of “former” and “latter”! I used your “Jack” and “Jill” example on my weblog.

  2. heli Says:

    Hi!
    Can I also use “last” when I am talking about two persons/things? Ex. Jack and Jill and Bob went up the hill; the last watched the other two fall down. -> Jack and Jill and Bob went up the hill; the two last watched the other two fall down.?
    Thanks!

  3. heli Says:

    ..I mean “Jack and Jill and Bob went up the hill; the two last watched Jack fall down.” in the latter sentence.. :)

  4. Angélica Says:

    Hi there, I found your web so useful. Thanks. English is my second language and sometimes I got in trouble trying to figure the correct use of it.
    Thanks a lot!

  5. smr Says:

    ‘Former’ is indeed what you would use when talking about two things, but according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, ‘latter’ can be used for a list, presumably involving more than two objects or persons: “being the second of two things, people or groups that have just been mentioned, or the last in a list”.

  6. Chaela Says:

    I’d like to thank you for the comfirmation, it’s good to know I’m using the terms correctly.

  7. prapaphan Says:

    I am sure the following sentence is correct. Please help

    This 2-day course will be repeated twice; the former in Bangkok during February and the latter in Chiang Mai during June

    Thanks for your reply


  8. It is in point of fact a nice and helpful piece of info.

    I’m satisfied that you shared this useful info with us.
    Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.


  9. assisted me a lot you made some clear points there its very nice to read i couldn’t refrain from commenting


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