Former or Latter – The Correct Way to Use Each

Former vs. Latter: What’s the Gist?

Both words are used as adjectives.

  • Former means the first of two items.
  • Latter means the second of two items.

Continue read to see how these words are used in English sentences.

former versus latter

Have you ever heard someone distinguish between the former and the latter but didn’t know what that person meant?

Former and latter are adjectives that most people only use within a very limited context: to describe the order of two things that were mentioned together.

Most of the time, people use these terms without explaining them, so language learners or beginner writers might not know what they mean.

What is the Difference Between Former and Latter?

In this post, I will compare latter vs. former. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that you can use to help you decide whether latter or former is the word you mean.

How to Use Former

Former definition: Former is an adjective. It has two meanings. Sometimes, it refers to a previous role that is no longer held, like in the phrases former Marine or former employer.

In this article, though, we will be mainly concerned with the sense of former as the first of two things mentioned.

Here is an example,

  • Bob owned a Jeep and an old Dodge Dart, but the former vehicle was his daily driver.

In this sentence, former is an adjective that modifies vehicle.

Former is can also be an absolute adjective, which is an adjective that functions as a noun in sentences. See the example below.

  • Between an honorable death and a life of cowardice, I will choose the former every time.

In this sentence, former becomes a de facto noun. It is the object of the verb choose.

How to Use Latter

Latter definition: Latter is also an adjective. It is the opposite of former; it means the second in a list of two things.

For example,

  • Aveline went steady with the quarterback her junior year and the punter her senior year, and she married the latter athlete.

Like former, latter is also an absolute adjective, and it can function as a noun in sentences.

In the sentence below, latter is used as an absolute adjective.

  • When offered a choice between a blue pill and a red pill, Keanu chose the latter.

Outside Examples of Former vs. Latter

  • Mr. de Blasio’s two Brooklyn brownstones — his home at 442 11th Street in Park Slope and his mother’s former home nearby at No. 384 — generate considerable rental income for Mr. de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray. –The New York Times
  • The Cupertino, Calif.-based MacBook-maker isn’t in pole position when it comes to permits in California. Google and Uber have them, and the latter also started testing self-driving cars with its Pittsburgh customers late last year –New York Post
  • The political websites The Hill and Axios both reported that the GOP did not have the votes it needed to reach the magic number, with the former reporting 28 holdouts and the latter 25. –New York Post

How to Remember These Words

Latter and former are both adjectives, and since they are often used in the same context, it is easy to get them confused. Luckily, there is an easy way to tell the difference.

  • The former thing is the first thing mentioned.
  • The latter thing is the last thing mentioned.

If you don’t like that mnemonic, you could also remember that former and latter are in alphabetical order, and former comes before latter in a list of two things.

Article Summary

Is former or latter correct? Former and latter are adjectives that refer to the first and last things in lists of two things.

  • Former describes the thing that was mentioned first.
  • Latter describes the thing that was mentioned last.

Both words can also function as a noun in sentences, in which case they are absolute adjectives.