adjective pen·ul·ti·mate \pi-ˈnəl-tə-mət\

Definition of penultimate

  1. 1 :  next to the last the penultimate chapter of a book

  2. 2 :  of or relating to the next to the last syllable of a word a penultimate accent



penultimate was our Word of the Day on 12/01/2014. Hear the podcast!

Examples of penultimate in a sentence

  1. Belle was the penultimate person to die, just hours before a slave, fifty-three-year-old Alba, wandered in delirium away from his cabin and sat down to death in front of Carlyle's airing-out cottage. —Edward P. Jones, The Known World, 2003

  2. He threw harder in the last inning than he did in the first, whiffing pinch hitter Darryl Strawberry with a 97-mph heater for the penultimate out and blowing away the final hitter, Knoblauch, with a 96-mph fastball. —Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated, 27 Mar. 2000

  3. … regulations have cleared the penultimate hurdle and appear ready to become law … —John Aloysius Farrell, Sunday Denver (CO) Post, 2 Sept. 1984

  4. Pompey … speaks of her mother's difficult death and of her own longings for death and rises to a rare moment of lyric power in the novel's penultimate paragraph. —Joyce Carol Oates, New York Times Book Review, 3 Oct. 1982

  5. the penultimate syllable of the word

Did You Know?

Penultimate isn't the last word in words for things that are next to last. There is a pair of noun synonyms that are used commonly enough to have gained entry into abridged dictionaries: penult and penultima. Although all three can refer to something that's next to last, penult and penultima are usually a bit more specific; they are used most often to identify the next to last syllable of a word. All three derive from paenultima, a Latin root from paene ("almost") and ultima ("last"). You may occasionally hear the word penultimate used as an intensified version of ultimate, as in "a race they've called 'the penultimate challenge.'" This use isn't typically found in edited prose, however-or in dictionaries. One of our editors discusses it in this video.

Origin and Etymology of penultimate

see penult

First Known Use: 1677

PENULTIMATE Defined for English Language Learners


adjective pen·ul·ti·mate \pi-ˈnəl-tə-mət\

Definition of penultimate for English Language Learners

  • : occurring immediately before the last one : next to the last

Seen and Heard

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


to criticize severely

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