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 Forgoing a caption, the star posted a series of snaps on Instagram wearing a Lakers jersey emblazoned with the number 24 -- Bryant's number during the latter half of his basketball career. Glenn Rowley, Billboard, "Ciara Sweetly Honors Kobe Bryant With Baby Bump Pic at Super Bowl 2020," 3 Feb. 2020 Drake is a free agent and could be in line for a big contract after shining the latter half of last season in Arizona. Jeremy Cluff, azcentral, "Kenyan Drake opens up about time with Miami Dolphins, differences with Arizona Cardinals," 29 Jan. 2020 UConn's Crystal Dangerfield then took the inbound pass and allowed the shot clock to expire, spurring a 24-second violation in honor of the number Bryant wore in high school and during the latter half of his pro career. Eliott C. Mclaughlin, CNN, "Gigi Bryant always wanted to be a UConn Husky. Now, she'll be one forever," 28 Jan. 2020 Composer Brian Reitzell and sound designer Robert Mackenzie also make invaluable contributions, and there's brilliantly creepy prosthetics work in the latter half as family drama cedes the way with grim finality to horror. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Relic': Film Review | Sundance 2020," 27 Jan. 2020 After back-to-back top-five finishes in the 500 in 2015-16, Kimball led briefly during the latter-half of the 2017 running. Nathan Brown, Indianapolis Star, "Charlie Kimball joins A.J. Foyt Racing as full-time driver for 2020 IndyCar season," 22 Jan. 2020 After getting banged up in the latter half of the season, Ford returned to help torment Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins in the NFC divisional round. Jim Chairusmi, WSJ, "Chiefs vs. 49ers: The Super Bowl of Speed," 20 Jan. 2020 Despite the unusual transmission pattern this year, Brammer says most people do not need to get a second vaccine for the latter half of the season. Jamie Ducharme, Time, "This Year's Flu Season Got Off to a Strange Start. What Does That Mean for the Months Ahead?," 16 Jan. 2020 The newest generation of companies has not been able to fulfill the latter half of that prophecy. Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic, "Silicon Valley Is Losing Its Most Distinctive Trait," 15 Jan. 2020

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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Time Traveler for latter

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for latter

Last Updated

11 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Latter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/latter. Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for latter

latter

adjective
How to pronounce latter (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for latter

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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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