1 : occurring immediately before the last one : next to the last
2 : of or relating to the next to the last syllable of a 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.
The word edamame places its primary stress on the penultimate syllable.
"The decision to bump off two major characters in last week's episode of Boardwalk Empire made for an excellent hour of television, but the unfortunate trade-off is that the show's penultimate episode, 'Friendless Child,' is almost painfully anticlimactic." - Sarene Leeds, Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2014
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Word Family Quiz
What English word is a descendant of Latin paene and has Latin roots that translate as "almost an island"? The answer is …
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