Former vs. Latter: Which is Which? Image

You’ve probably come across the terms former and latter at some point, either in writing or in conversation.

While these words save you the trouble of repeating yourself, you must understand what each is referring to for these substitutes to be effective.

Former vs. Latter

Former and latter are 2 words used to refer to 2 previously mentioned things. Former refers to the first thing mentioned, while latter is the second thing mentioned.

Note that this can only be used to distinguish between two items. Never use former and latter when you’ve referred to more than two things.

It’s also wise to use these words sparingly throughout your writing. Using former or latter too often can get confusing for readers, since 1) many people don’t have a clear understanding of what each means, and 2) readers will need to frequently look back at which is which in the previous sentence.

Former Definition

As an adjective, former described someone or something that previously held a certain role or purpose. It’s usually synonymous with the prefix “ex-“, as in “ex-husband” or “ex-associate.”

Former can also denote the first mentioned of two people or things, which is the use we’re covering in this article.

Latter Definition

Latter is an adjective that describes something situated closer to the end of something than to the beginning.

Latter, as we’ve already discussed, can also denote the second of 2 previously mentioned things.

Examples of Former and Latter

  • Coffee and tea are both great beverages, but I prefer the former.
  • She loved both dogs and cats, but since the former made her sneeze, she could only keep the latter as a pet.
  • When he had to choose between wine or beer, he always ordered the latter.
  • He was given a choice between chocolate or strawberry. He was allergic to the former, while the latter repulsed him.
  • Her hobbies include writing and singing, but the latter is her true passion.

How to Remember the Difference

One easy way to remember which is which is the fact that former starts with an ‘f’, like first, while latter is only one letter away from later.

For more help with word choice and grammar, be sure to check out our tips on emigrate vs. immigrate and fewer vs. less.

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