pen·​ul·​ti·​mate pi-ˈnəl-tə-mət How to pronounce penultimate (audio)
: next to the last
the penultimate chapter of a book
: of or relating to the next to the last syllable of a word
a penultimate accent
penultimately adverb

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, the feminine of paenultimus, a Latin root from paene ("almost") and ultimus ("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.

Example Sentences

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
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
… regulations have cleared the penultimate hurdle and appear ready to become law … John Aloysius Farrell, Sunday Denver (CO) Post, 2 Sept. 1984
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
the penultimate syllable of the word
Recent Examples on the Web The Russian spy plot that's been simmering on NCIS all year comes to a boil in this week's penultimate episode of season 20. Sara Netzley,, 16 May 2023 The season’s penultimate episode also revealed Gideon’s involvement with the Shadow Council, a group of Empire loyalists that are working to overthrow the New Republic. Sydney Odman, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Apr. 2023 The season's penultimate episode mentioned Brendol Hux is working on another mysterious project called Project Necromancer, and the name suggests this, rather than whatever Gideon has been up to privately, could be the effort to bring Palpatine back. Brendan Morrow, The Week, 19 Apr. 2023 The On Athletics Club runner charged ahead at the end of the penultimate lap of the eight-lap race, opened up a gap over the UK’s Neil Gourley and OAC training partners Mario Garcia Romo of Spain and Oliver Hoare of Australia, then surged full speed ahead into the final lap. Brian Metzler, Outside Online, 12 Feb. 2023 Concerts are slated to begin June 14 under the baton of principal conductor Carlos Kalmar in his penultimate season with the festival he’s led since 2000. Doug George, Chicago Tribune, 10 Jan. 2023 The two teams meet again Feb. 28 in Lincoln, the Spartans’ penultimate game of the regular season. Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press, 4 Jan. 2023 Watt, who announced the 2022 season would be his last following a loss to Tampa Bay last weekend, posted a picture on Twitter of his cleats for the Arizona Cardinals' penultimate game of the year in Atlanta, showcasing an old Pewaukee Pirates logo and his high school No. 9. Jr Radcliffe, Journal Sentinel, 3 Jan. 2023 When the supposedly penultimate Mission: Impossible movie opens in July, Tom Cruise will be 61. Alex Pappademas, Men's Health, 13 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'penultimate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


see penult

First Known Use

1677, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of penultimate was in 1677


Dictionary Entries Near penultimate

Cite this Entry

“Penultimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


pen·​ul·​ti·​mate pi-ˈnəl-tə-mət How to pronounce penultimate (audio)
: next to the last
penultimate noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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