lat·ter | \ˈla-tər \

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

Many consumers have opted for the latter, said Jerry Howard, NAHB chief executive officer. Ben Tobin, USA TODAY, "Home buyers hit by lumber prices near record highs," 22 June 2018 The Hitchin' Post, a short pedal up Main St., is a popular spot for the latter, with bar food offerings and daily specials. Chelsey Lewis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "3 old railroad tunnels help make the Elroy-Sparta Trail one of the state's most popular," 21 June 2018 AMC Theatres, an ardent critic of ticketing service MoviePass, will roll out a ticketing service of its own next week in a move that could create troubling competition for the latter. Aric Jenkins, Fortune, "How AMC's Version of MoviePass Stacks Up Against Its Competitor," 20 June 2018 For the latter, Rearden has to show that the studios had knowledge of someone else's infringing activity, and induced, caused or materially contributed to that infringing conduct. Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter, "Judge Allows Copyright Claims Over Technology Used on Disney's 'Avengers'," 18 June 2018 For the latter he was ousted in 2014 by the Inspector General and banned from holding public office for 15 years. Washington Post, "Ex-rebel looks to defy odds in Colombia presidential race," 16 June 2018 Helping fuel nickel’s latest leg up, more companies have come to favor batteries that use more nickel than cobalt, as prices for the latter have spiked amid struggles extracting it from Congo, the world’s largest supplier. Amrith Ramkumar, WSJ, "Electric-Vehicle Frenzy Sweeps Up Once-Unloved Metal: Nickel," 11 June 2018 Affection for the latter, though, will steadily increase., "What they're saying about Justify's Triple Crown victory," 10 June 2018 Affection for the latter, though, will steadily increase. Fletcher Page, The Courier-Journal, "Justify doesn't need popularity. He has the Triple Crown," 9 June 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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Phrases Related to latter

the latter

Statistics for latter

Last Updated

21 Oct 2018

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 \

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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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).


exaggeratedly or childishly emotional

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