The ‘former’ and the ‘latter’ are words used in English to refer to the position of something in a sequence. It sounds simple, but getting it right every time can be tricky. Here’s our quick guide to getting it right every time.
What Does The Former Mean?
The ‘former’ is a term used to describe the first item listed in a sequence of two things.
“I couldn’t decide what color to paint my bedroom. I narrowed it down to a light grey or a soft stone shade. After days of looking at samples, I decided to opt for the former.”
“For my birthday last year, I wanted to try the new Thai restaurant that had opened locally but I was torn, as I love eating at my favorite seafood restaurant. I decided to book the former as I fancied trying somewhere new.”
‘In the examples given above, former’ refers to the first item or thing mentioned in a sequence. A good way to remember it is F for first and former.
The word ‘former’ can also be used in English to mean having been previously known as something, for example:
“This is my former partner.”
“That work was produced for my former employer.”
“I switched as my former electricity supplier was more expensive.”
Don’t let this confuse you, as it can be used as a useful tool to remind you of its meaning and position. ‘Former’ is in the past, previous or before, all associated words that indicate its position as first in a given sequence.
What Does The Latter Mean?
The ‘latter’ is a term used to describe the last item listed in a sequence of two items or things.
“I love animals and have two dogs, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross and a Labrador cross, the latter is the youngest of the two.”
“We enjoy white and red wine but as we had both ordered fillet steak, we opted for the latter.”
Latter means something that falls later in a sequence. A good way to remember it is that L stands for last or later. These associated words indicate its position as the latter item listed in a given sequence.
The Former vs The Latter: Top Tips For Getting It Right
1. Only ever use the former and the latter when referring to a sequence of two items or things, no more.
2. By using the former and the latter it saves you from having to repeat yourself and your list, as you can simply, refer back to the item or thing using either the former or the latter.
3. The former or the latter tend only to be used in formal settings such as business-related or academic speaking or writing. Occasionally, you might hear them used in general conversation but it is quite a formal term.
4. ‘Former’ and ‘latter’ are simply directing the reader or audience to an item or things positioned in the given sequence. Remember F for first and former and L for last and latter. Keep that in mind and you will always get it right.
5. The former and the latter can be used in conjunction, or individually.
“I would like to introduce my two colleagues, Peter and Clare. The former is a solicitor with over 20 years of experience and the latter, one of the industry’s top Communications Consultants.”
“I would like to talk you through two presentations today, our communications strategy for the year ahead and our review of last year’s performance. I’ll begin with the latter.”
“In my proposal, I cover the 5-year business plan for the company and our profit projections. I’ll start with the former.”
In the examples shown above, you can see that “the latter” and “the former” can be used individually or together in a sentence.
Keep it simple. Remember, the sequence length should be no more than two items listed and F is for first and former and L is for last and latter.
A good exercise is to try using ‘the former’ and ‘the latter’ in conversation to familiarise yourself with using the term and play around by writing a few examples of your own containing “the former” or “the latter”.
Keep practicing and soon you’ll be using ‘former’ and ‘latter’ with confidence.