latter

adjective
lat·​ter | \ ˈla-tər \

Definition of latter 

1a : belonging to a subsequent time or period : more recent the latter stages of growth
b : of or relating to the end in their latter days
c : recent, present affected by latter calamities
2 : of, relating to, or being the second of two groups or things or the last of several groups or things referred to of ham and beef the latter meat is cheaper today of ham and beef the latter is cheaper today

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Can latter be used of more than two?

There is some controversy afoot regarding the use of latter, particularly regarding its use to refer to items in a series. Many commentators insist that latter can only be used of a series that consists of two:

We have a chicken entree and a vegetarian entree: do you prefer the former or the latter?

When presented with a series of three or more, they say, anyone wishing to highlight the last item in the series should use last and not latter:

We had soup, fish, and dessert, and the last was uninspiring.

But our evidence shows that latter is used to refer to the last in a series regardless of number:

After Ethel's action at Oxford, the ultimate sacrifice that symbolizes her self-discipline, the focus moves away to other members of her family for the latter third of the novel...
— Melissa Schaub, Studies in the Novel, Spring 2007

...I am getting crosser and snappier and sadder every minute straining and struggling to type and to read and to draw (the latter is the easiest).
— James Thurber, letter, 9 June 1939

...bee not over-power'd with policie, nor with enforcement of arguments, nor with the approach of Souldiers, and Troopers; the two first may seeme to perswade you, the latter may terrifie you into an everlasting undoing...
— A.L., To all the honest, wise, and grave-citizens of London, but more especially to all those that challenge an interest in the Common-Hall, 1648

This use is common enough that most modern dictionaries make mention of it in their definitions for latter—and indeed they should, since our evidence for this particular use is several hundred years old. Despite this evidence, however, there are still those who object to its use; if you are concerned about such things, use last to refer to the last item in a series of three or more.

Examples of latter in a Sentence

… a fundamental trade-off between capitalist prosperity and economic security. As a nation we have chosen to have less of the former in order to have more of the latter. — David A. Stockman, Newsweek, 28 Apr. 1986 … though her bibliography includes Hecht, Snyder, and Daiches, she omits the latter's first name … — DeLancey Ferguson, Modern Language Notes, February 1957 the latter stages of the process We'll go in the latter half of the year. In his latter years he became blind.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Time's Up made those victories for the latter quite clear in their announcement of their renewed initiative. Brittney Mcnamara, Teen Vogue, "Golden Globes 2019 Lacked Sexual Assault and Harassment Protests Despite Time's Up Effort," 7 Jan. 2019 No one learned this latter lesson more painfully than Leslie Jones and Chrissy Teigen during NBC's New Year's Eve live broadcast from Times Square. Krystin Arneson, Glamour, "Chrissy Teigen Got Hit in the Face by an Umbrella on Live TV, and Obviously It Became a Meme," 1 Jan. 2019 Harvard lecturer Eric Rosenbach is bracing for the latter. Kurt Wagner, Recode, "Facebook has a plan to protect the U.S. midterms. Is it enough?," 17 Aug. 2018 Ibrahimovic's Sweden and Beckham's England are going head-to-head Saturday, and the former extended a wager for the latter via Instagram–which was reciprocated in kind. Avi Creditor, SI.com, "David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic Put Wager on Sweden-England World Cup Match," 6 July 2018 According to new data from YouGov, Netflix has dropped in favor among Republicans and risen among Democrats, with the favorability rating dropping 16% for the former and rising 15% for the latter. refinery29.com, "Not All Republicans Are Boycotting Netflix Over Obama — & The Numbers Show It," 2 June 2018 An undulating tail similar to the gecko's might help with the latter issue and strengthen forward propulsion, while coating the robot with a hydrophobic material similar to the gecko's skin structure could significantly reduce drag. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Geckos’ new superpower is running on water; now we know how they do it," 6 Dec. 2018 The company hopes the new Feedback Hub tools will alleviate the latter problem. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, "Microsoft re-releases the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, admitting its testing needs to improve," 13 Nov. 2018 Whatever your feelings on that debate, political reality in the US seems to be weighing in on the side of the latter strategy. David Roberts, Vox, "After the midterms, US climate politics are even more polarized. Here’s how Dems can move forward.," 12 Nov. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'latter.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of latter

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for latter

Middle English, from Old English lætra, comparative of læt late

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Learn More about latter

Statistics for latter

Last Updated

14 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for latter

The first known use of latter was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for latter

latter

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of latter

: coming or happening near the end of a process, activity, series, life, etc.

latter

adjective
lat·​ter | \ ˈla-tər \

Kids Definition of latter

1 : coming or occurring near the end We are in the latter stages of the work.
2 : relating to or being the last thing or person mentioned Of cake or pie, I'll choose the latter.

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More from Merriam-Webster on latter

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with latter

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for latter

Spanish Central: Translation of latter

Nglish: Translation of latter for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of latter for Arabic Speakers

Comments on latter

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