Former vs. Latter – How to Choose Your Words Correctly

Former versus Latter

These two words generally function as a pair. What this means is that if you use the first word (former), you’ll need to match it up with the second (latter).

former versus latter

  • Former functions as an adjective.
  • Latter is also an adjective.

It is grammatically permissible to use each of them individually—providing that there are two distinguishable components in the sentence.

When to Use Former in a Sentence

Former meaning: As an adjective, former means coming before in time or occurring in the past or preceding in place that is based on arrangement.

A nuance related to the pairing of these words means to be first in the order of two or more things that are listed.

Furthermore, the meaning reflects something as having been previously.

Example: After receiving the blood transfusion, the injured man was starting to look like his former self. (Adjective)

Example: Practicing basketball at the expense of completing homework doesn’t mean that you do the former activity by neglecting the latter one. (Adjective)

Example: The former expectations of society were those of having a more defined gender roles. (Adjective)

When referring to two different chronological items in a sentence, former must be paired with the word latter. However, as you can see above, it may also function as a stand-alone adjective.

Phrases That Use Former

A shadow of his/her former self: An anemic or dim version of what someone once was.

  • The catastrophic loss rendered her a shadow of her former self.

When to Use Latter in a Sentence

Latter meaning: Unsurprisingly, the word latter functions as an adjective as well, and it means belonging to a subsequent time, or relating to the end, or something that is recent or in the present.

In relation to our word pairing, latter has the denotation of being the second in the order of two or more things listed.

Example: The latter classes taken in an undergraduate program are often the most difficult. (Adjective)

Example: When revising and editing an academic paper, remember to address the former process before attempting the latter objective. (Adjective)

As an adjective the word latter can function as a single-word modifier. Furthermore, latter is often paired with the word former to indicate the chronology of something. Just remember, it is possible to just use latter by itself in this type of construction—providing that two distinguishable elements are clearly present.

Phrases That Use Latter

Latter day: Means modern or present.

  • The latter-day approach for some careers includes the possibility of working remotely.

Outside Examples of Former vs. Latter

  • Boban Simic, a Chicago bouncer contemplating a comeback as a mixed martial arts fighter, and his trainer, former pro boxer and retired Chicago firefighter Bobby Thompson, were out for their regular winter swim when Simic noticed a large chunk of floating ice a couple hundred yards offshore. –Chicago Sun-Times
  • The former vice president has cultivated a decadeslong brand as “Middle Class Joe” and often referred to himself as “one of the poorest members of Congress.” But Mr. Biden’s financial struggles, compared with many of his colleagues, weren’t just a product of his reliance on a government salary. –The Wall Street Journal
  • Despite the image of ex-military Americans like those working for Blackwater during the Nisour Square shooting, the Pentagon hires a vast majority of contractors from within the country or from other countries. The U.S. Defense Department calls the latter “Third County Nationals,” or TCNs. –The Washington Post
  • In the latter stages of this slightly attenuated two-hour thriller, “The Invisible Man” decides to lay on the carnage, some of it dramatically effective, some not. –Chicago Tribune

Former or Latter – Keeping Them Straight

The real issue for remembering this pairing of words is choosing the correct chronological reference. In other words, do you want the antecedent former to match something you refer to later on in the sentence or do you want the antecedent latter?

Just remember that the word former starts with the letter f, just like the word first. List the topic that references the first idea in the second half of your sentence. Then remember that the word latter starts with the letter l, just like the word last. Make sure that topic matches the last idea in your sentence.

For example:

  • Being efficient with running the errands and cleaning the house means one person takes responsibility for the former while someone else takes charge of the latter.

In the above sentence, running the errands is the first responsibility listed and corresponds to the word former. On the other hand, the phrase cleaning the house is the last responsibility listed and agrees with the word latter.

Recap: When to Use Former or Latter?

The confusion lies with the pairing itself rather than with either word specifically. Sometimes there is an uncertainty which later words in the sentence match the earlier antecedents.

Just remember the following: former equals first and latter equals last.

  • Former is the first part of a pair of adjectives.
  • Latter is the last part of this pair.