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

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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

Likewise, the windows and skylight have unusual shapes, with the latter being constructed from shipbuilding and automobile parts. Liz Stinson, Curbed, "154-square-foot office pod stands out in a good way," 17 Oct. 2018 There are a lot of do's and don'ts when meeting Her Majesty, including allowing the Queen to initiate body contact and letting her take the lead when walking, and Trump seemed to struggle a bit with the latter. Eileen Reslen, Harper's BAZAAR, "Did Donald Trump Break Royal Protocol by Walking in Front of the Queen and Not Bowing?," 13 July 2018 The latter would be extremely unlikely, though, as Saudi Arabia is all but certain to block it. Javier Blas, Bloomberg.com, "OPEC Heads to Decisive Meeting With Four Possible Outcomes," 22 June 2018 The latter two might not be easily attainable, but Meghan's skin care routine just became way more feasible to own. Rachel Nussbaum, Glamour, "Tatcha Is Having a Ridiculously Good Sale Right Now," 9 Nov. 2018 Two polls, conducted in June, found Dunleavy ahead of Begich and Walker, but with the latter two still taking more than 20 percent of the vote respectively — a classic split vote. Dylan Scott, Vox, "2018’s most fascinating governor’s election, explained," 20 Aug. 2018 England, Croatia, Belgium and France make up an all-European semifinal, with the latter two kicking off the last four on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg. Grant Wahl, SI.com, "England Coasts, Croatia Perseveres as Both End World Cup Semifinal Droughts," 7 July 2018 The latter two were most evident in this collection though Saint Laurent and Ungaro also came to mind. Roxanne Robinson, The Hollywood Reporter, "Alexandre Vauthier Shows "Super Parisian" Couture Collection," 3 July 2018 The latter is thanks to vitamin C and hexylresorcinol, which is an antioxidant that specifically targets an enzyme required for the production of pigment in the skin, Lain explains. Devon Abelman, Allure, "This Powerful Vitamin C Treatment Helped Me Get the Glass Skin of My Dreams," 19 Mar. 2019

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

22 Apr 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 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.

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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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