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When To Use Former Vs Latter

Published by at March 1st, 2024 , Revised On March 4, 2024

“Former” and “latter” are two words that often trip up even the most confident writers. These seemingly simple terms hold the power to create clarity or sow confusion, depending on how they are used.

If you are one of those people who often interchange these confusing words, this easy guide is for you. Before getting into the details, remember this:

  • Former: Refers to the first item mentioned in a set of two or more.
  • Latter: Refers to the second (if there are only two) or the last item mentioned in a set.

Former Vs Latter: First And Last

“Former” and “latter” serve one primary purpose: to refer back to previously mentioned items within a sentence or paragraph. They act as substitutes for nouns and help eliminate repetition and enhance conciseness. However, the key difference lies in the order they represent.

Here’s an analogy to remember:

  • Former is like First, referring to the item that comes first.
  • Latter is like Last, referring to the item that comes last.

How To Use Former Vs Latter

The ideal scenario for using “former” and “latter” is when you have to deal with exactly two previously mentioned items. Here’s how you can use them:

Example 1

  • She enjoys both reading and writing, but she prefers the former.

Example 2

  • The company offers two software packages, the Basic and the Premium. The former caters to individual users, while the latter is designed for enterprises. 

(In this instance, “former” refers to “Basic,” mentioned first, and “latter” refers to “Premium,” mentioned second.)

Important Note: While some style guides advocate for restricting “former” and “latter” solely to two-item contexts, contemporary usage allows for some flexibility. If the context is clear and avoids ambiguity, you can use them with more than two items that might be acceptable in informal writing. However, for formal writing, it’s generally safer to stick to the two-item rule or rephrase the sentence to avoid confusion.

Examples Of Former In Sentences

  1. John was a doctor, and his wife, Mrs Kath, was a nurse. The former enjoyed diagnosing illnesses, while the latter preferred patient care.
  2. The company considered two candidates for the position. The former had more experience, but the latter demonstrated better communication skills.
  3. He used to be a smoker, but now he’s a former smoker, thanks to his determination to quit.
  4. The former champion graciously passed the torch to the young newcomer, recognising his talent and potential.
  5. Sarah had two cats; one was black, and the former was white.

Examples Of Latter In Sentences

  1. The meeting can be scheduled for Monday or Tuesday; the latter seems to be more convenient for most attendees.
  2. The first method was complex and time-consuming, while the latter offered a simpler and more efficient solution.
  3. They could choose between a trip to the beach or a hike in the mountains; they opted for the latter due to the cooler weather.
  4. The article discussed two theories; the latter was more widely accepted among scientists.
  5. One book covered the history of ancient civilisations, while the latter focused on modern political systems.

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Alternatives To Former Or Latter

When dealing with more than two items, relying solely on “former” and “latter” is not recommended. Here are some alternative strategies to ensure clarity:

  • Use numerals:

The company offers three plans: the Basic, Standard, and Premium.

  • Repeat the nouns:

While chocolate and vanilla are popular ice cream flavours, chocolate seems to be the more preferred choice.

  • Use synonyms or rephrase the sentence:

Both the traditional and the modern methods have their merits. The traditional method, however, requires more expertise.

Frequently Asked Questions

The former refers to the first of two things mentioned, while the latter refers to the second. They are used to distinguish between two items previously mentioned in a sequence, with the former indicating the first and the latter indicating the second.

The former comes first. It refers to the first of two things mentioned in a sequence, while the latter refers to the second. So, when distinguishing between two items, the former always precedes the latter.

The former comes first. It refers to the first of two things mentioned in a sequence, while the latter refers to the second. So, in order, the former precedes the latter.

“The latter than the former” implies that the second item mentioned is being compared to the first. “Latter” refers to the second of two items, while “former” refers to the first. So, “latter than former” signifies a comparison where the second item surpasses the first in some aspect.

A synonym for “former” is “previous” or “initial,” indicating what comes first. “Latter” can be replaced with “later” or “subsequent,” denoting what comes after. These synonyms maintain the sequential relationship between two items, with “former” representing the first and “latter” representing the second.

It depends on the context. “Latter” refers to the second of two things mentioned, while “last” typically refers to the final one in a sequence. If there are only two items, “latter” is correct; if more, “last” may be appropriate.

About Alvin Nicolas

Avatar for Alvin NicolasNicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He is a content manager at ResearchProspect. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.