latter

adjective
lat·​ter | \ ˈla-tər How to pronounce latter (audio) \

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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web The latter references the very first Phantom wheel and is available in polished stainless or black lacquer. Robert Ross, Robb Report, 12 May 2022 The latter will help the city secure state reimbursements for school construction costs through the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 12 May 2022 These days, the need for speed still persists for both Cruise and Maverick, even if the latter does more flying than running. Justin Changfilm Critic, Los Angeles Times, 12 May 2022 The latter was moved off cycle due to scheduling conflicts. Rick Porter, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 May 2022 The former was recorded in the DR with a live band, and the latter was inspired by traditional dembow but with his essence. Jessica Roiz, Billboard, 12 May 2022 It’s the latter that the district is currently in the process of upgrading. John Benson, cleveland, 11 May 2022 The latter had not associated Zen with a minimalist aesthetic, thereby proving that even stereotypes are not universal; and the former, a female Zen priest, underscores a central premise of the show and of Buddhism itself: impermanence and change. Lee Lawrence, WSJ, 11 May 2022 Also, use a utensil that’s smooth, not rough or worn (as the latter will likely to hold onto cake crumbs). Washington Post, 11 May 2022 See More

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.

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

Learn More About latter

Time Traveler for latter

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near latter

latten

latter

latter-day

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Statistics for latter

Last Updated

16 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Latter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/latter. Accessed 16 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for latter

latter

adjective
lat·​ter | \ ˈla-tər How to pronounce latter (audio) \

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.

More from Merriam-Webster on latter

Nglish: Translation of latter for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of latter for Arabic Speakers

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