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

The former attended Bellarmine Prep in San Jose; the latter was home-schooled. John Horgan, The Mercury News, "Horgan: Local 2019 National Merit Scholarship winners announced," 13 June 2019 The question for today’s left seems to be whether the ultimate goal is to reform or to replace capitalism—and if the latter is indeed the goal, then what will a post-capitalist world actually look like? Conor Lynch, The New Republic, "The Left’s Failure to Envision a World Without Capitalism," 12 June 2019 Unfortunately, the latter is often more fleeting than the former, Abderholden says. Caryn M. Sullivan, Twin Cities, "Caryn Sullivan: Mental illness: Breaking the silence and making a plan," 9 June 2019 The latter is a very different kind than Mexican or Spanish chorizo. Karla T. Vasquez,, "How Salvadoran sausages came to the Bay Area," 7 June 2019 The latter is the gold standard for turnout in San Antonio municipal elections. Dylan Mcguinness,, "High turnout marks early voting in San Antonio’s municipal runoffs," 5 June 2019 The latter is important because retirees are more likely to suffer from depression than workers, and the reason often boils down to feeling bored and unfulfilled. Maurie Backman, USA TODAY, "Boost your retirement income with these key moves," 5 June 2019 And the implicit subsidies dwarf the explicit subsidies, so arguing about the latter while unable to agree on the former is uniquely pointless. David Roberts, Vox, "Putting a dollar value on one of oil’s biggest subsidies: military protection," 21 Sep. 2018 Musk acknowledged on Twitter that the latter idea was less likely to work given the cave’s topology, and it’s unclear how long either might take to design, test and implement. Time, "Divers Begin Rescue Operation to Free 12 Boys and Their Soccer Coach Trapped in a Thai Cave," 8 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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Statistics for latter

Last Updated

17 Jun 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



English Language Learners Definition of latter

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


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

What made you want to look up latter? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


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