adjective lat·ter \ ˈla-tər \
|Updated on: 12 Aug 2018

Definition of latter

1 a : 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

Examples of latter in a Sentence

  1. … 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. StockmanNewsweek28 Apr. 1986
  2. … though her bibliography includes Hecht, Snyder, and Daiches, she omits the latter's first name … —DeLancey FergusonModern Language NotesFebruary 1957
  3. the latter stages of the process

  4. We'll go in the latter half of the year.

  5. In his latter years he became blind.

Recent Examples of latter from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of latter

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

LATTER Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of latter for English Language Learners

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

LATTER Defined for Kids


adjective lat·ter \ ˈla-tər \

Definition of latter for Students

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.

Seen and Heard

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very hard to disturb or upset

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