Former vs. Latter | Meaning, Examples & Difference

Former and latter are both used (with “the”) to refer to previously mentioned items in a list of two or more things. This is done to save space and reduce repetition.

  • Former can be used to refer back to the first person or thing in a list. It can also be used to mean “previous” or to refer to a past state.
  • Latter can be used to refer back to the last person or thing in a list. It can also be used to refer to a subsequent time or period.
Examples: Former in a sentence Examples: Latter in a sentence
I was offered soup or salad, and I chose the former. Norway and Italy are both beautiful, but the latter is much warmer.
The former president is running for election again. He faced many difficulties in the latter half of his life.
Note
Some style guides argue that former and latter should only be used in lists containing two items, and this is certainly the most common way of using the words. However, it’s quite possible to use the words with longer lists, too.

If you do want to avoid this, you can use “first” and “last” instead. And you’ll always have to use a different word to refer to one of the middle items in a list (e.g., “the third”).

The former and the latter

The former and the latter are noun phrases that stand in for the first and last item in a previously mentioned list. You always need to include the definite article “the.”

Examples: The former and the latter in sentences
Francis likes both swimming and hiking, but he prefers the former.

We can go on vacation in fall or winter, but the latter might be quite cold.

We were offered tea and coffee. I chose the former, Chris the latter.

Tip
To remember the difference between former and latter, look at the letters they start with: former refers to the first item in the list, latter to the last item.

Other uses of former

Former can be used as an adjective to refer to a past state or status (often interchangeable with the prefix “ex-“). It can also be used to mean “previous.”

Examples: Former to refer to the past
Lisa is on good terms with her former husband.

Emile spent a lot of money trying to restore the theater to its former glory.

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Other uses of latter

Latter can also be used as an adjective to mean “subsequent” or to refer to a later time or period.

Examples: Latter to refer to a subsequent time or period
In the latter stages, the company was very profitable.

I found the latter half of the play a little tedious.

Latter-day

Latter-day is an expression used to mean “present-day” or “modern.” It’s hyphenated and appears before the noun it modifies.

Example: Latter-day in a sentence
Some people see him as a latter-day prophet, but I think he’s a charlatan.

Worksheet: Latter vs. former

Test your knowledge of the difference between “former” and “latter” by using our practice worksheet below. Fill in either “former” or “latter” in each sentence.

  1. “The _______” is used to refer to the first item in a list.
  2. “The _______” is used to refer to the last item in a list.
  3. Tatiana is a _______ councilwoman who is active in local social projects.
  4. In the beginning, I didn’t like the book, but I found the _______ chapters really entertaining.
  5. Ahmad is a very talented painter. He’s like a _______-day Picasso.
  1. “The former” is used to refer to the first item in a list.
    • “The former” is a noun phrase consisting of the definite article “the” and the noun “former.”
  1. “The latter” is used to refer to the last item in a list.
    • “The latter” is a noun phrase consisting of the definite article “the” and the noun “latter.”
  1. Tatiana is a former councilwoman who is active in local social projects
    • In this instance, “former” is used as an adjective referring to a previous status.
  1. In the beginning, I didn’t like the book, but I found the latter chapters really entertaining.
    • In this instance, “latter” is used as an adjective to mean “subsequent.”
  1. Ahmad is a very talented painter. He’s like a latter-day Picasso.
    • Here, the expression “latter-day” (meaning “modern”) is correct.

    Other interesting language articles

    If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

     

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    Eoghan Ryan

    Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.