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

In the latter race, the junior overtook Male’s Darian Clyburn just before the final hurdle to win with a time :39, .67 better than the Bulldogs senior. Steve Bittenbender, The Courier-Journal, "Male High's boys and girls teams claims another sweep in regional track," 12 May 2018 By the latter stages, with break chances so rare, murmurs would spread through the Centre Court stands whenever a game's returner got to love-15 or love-30. Howard Fendrich, chicagotribune.com, "Illinois alumnus Kevin Anderson beats John Isner in longest semifinal in Wimbledon history," 13 July 2018 By the latter stages, with break chances so rare, murmurs would spread through the Centre Court stands whenever a game’s returner just got to love-15 or love-30. Howard Fendrich, BostonGlobe.com, "Kevin Anderson outlasts John Isner in second-longest match in Wimbledon history," 13 July 2018 Perisic provided a relentless threat to Gareth Southgate’s team, with his powerful and purposeful runs down the left flank and at the heart of England’s defence causing consistent problems throughout the latter stages of the match. SI.com, "Injury Threatens to Rule Star Ivan Perisic Out of Croatia's World Cup Final Meeting With France," 13 July 2018 Hunter made a flurry of movies in the latter half of the 1950s, aimed at capitalizing on his popularity with young girls. Sasha Savitsky, Fox News, "'Damn Yankees!' star Tab Hunter dead at 86," 10 July 2018 Entering into the latter category is the new mascara from Hourglass cosmetics: Caution Extreme Lash Mascara. Sarah Spellings, The Cut, "This New Mascara Promises Crazy-Voluminous Lashes," 10 July 2018 Hunter made a flurry of movies in the latter half of the 1950s, aimed at capitalizing on his popularity with young girls. Shawn Marsh, azcentral, "Tab Hunter, screen heartthrob and gay icon, dies at 86," 9 July 2018 Within ten years Greenpeace expects to have a fleet of aerial, surface and even underwater drones, with the latter seeking, among other things, signs of unlawful seabed mining, says John Murphy, the outfit’s head of drones. The Economist, "Avast, me hearties," 5 July 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

Phrases Related to latter

the latter

Statistics for latter

Last Updated

7 Oct 2018

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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Comments on latter

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